The Vermont House has advanced legislation that's designed to make dental care more accessible to low-income people throughout the state. The legislation creates a new category of professional within the state's dentistry system.
The job is known as a "dental therapist" and the educational training level of this new position lies between that of a dental hygienist and a dentist. The goal is to have the therapist perform some of the basic procedures of dentistry.
In order to become a dental therapist, a person must be a licensed hygienist and must also receive additional training from an educational institution that operates an accredited therapist program.
Randolph Rep. Patsy French says the bill is needed because many people do not have access to basic dental services.
"Many Vermonters have trouble finding dental care," says French. "Many of them are children with coverage under Dr. Dynasaur, pregnant women with dental coverage only through Medicaid, and low-income adults and senior citizens."
French says the therapist will work under the general supervision of a licensed dentist and could provide a cost-effective way to expand access to dental care.
"By adding a dental therapist, a dental practice would be able to accept and provide basic preventive and restorative treatment to more patients without adding as much overhead as adding another dentist would require," French said.
Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright voted against the bill. He read a letter from the Vermont Dental Society outlining its strong opposition to the legislation.
"We are convinced that this proposal, if enacted, will eventually create a two-tier system of dental care in Vermont with some patients seeing a dental therapist and others seeing a dentist," read Wright. "Vermont State Dental Society feels strongly that every Vermonter should be entitled to see a fully educated licensed doctor of dentistry."
The House supported the legislation by a vote of 109 to 32. The measure comes up for final approval in the House on Tuesday. The Senate has already passed its own version of this bill.