Dental therapists are no free market solution to dental woes

The current state of dental care in Florida is a mess. Florida lawmakers are right to address it.

However, the proposed solution of midlevel providers called dental therapists in SB 1498 misses the mark and is anything but a market solution.

Dental therapists require less training and education than dentists and can perform a fraction of dental procedures.

Thus far, the only functional dental therapist program is in Minnesota, created in 2011. But the same issues in dental care persist: costs are high, dental professionals in rural areas are lacking, and insurance is hard to come by.

Recent polls conducted in Arizona and Wisconsin found that 68 percent and 57 percent of adults in those states respectively oppose dental therapists as the “be all fix all” solution to our dental woes.

Instead, we should recognize out-of-state licenses for dentists, implement debt-relief plans for enticing dental students, and empower dental hygienists, who make up roughly a third of the dental workforce in this country. 

Dental therapists are not akin to hair braiders, tattoo artists, or stylists strapped with unreasonable labor restrictions and occupational licensing. Instead, they are purely a creation of government mandates and bureaucratic tinkering rather than market demand. There are no roving bands of dental therapists operating without licenses.

In Wisconsin, the governor is asking for $1 million to fund the dental therapy program next year and millions more will be required to fund it going forward.

Is that what we want in Florida?

We need more in the toolbox than just creating a new provider level and government program that adds its own costs.

Published in the Miami Herald: February 27,2019

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