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Support for licensing dental therapists grows, as others oppose

MADISON (WKOW) — Almost every county in Wisconsin doesn’t have enough dentists, 64 out of 72 counties, and that’s why dozens of groups and lawmakers are supporting licensing dental therapist as a solution. 

Currently, dental therapists practice in only four states and typically perform procedures such as pulling teeth and filling cavities. State law only allows licensing for dentists and dental hygienists but lawmakers want to expand licenses to help fill shortages in rural areas.

The idea faces opposition from some members of the Wisconsin Dental Association. They argue it wouldn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t include requirements for dental therapists to practice in rural areas or see Medicaid patients.

“Every state that passes dental therapy has some tie back to Medicaid service or serving underserved populations, this bill does not have that,” said Dr. Patrick Tepe, President of the Dental Association.

Ann Lynch, Director of Advocacy & Education for the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, said this bill would allow the hiring of more therapists to practice in areas of need by allowing them to do more types of procedures.

“Expanding the use of mid-level providers, such as a dental therapist, can increase the supply of basic services and improve the quality and convenience of care,” said Lynch.

The Wisconsin Dental Association and Lynch testified before the Health and Human Services Committee where they are expected to vote on this legislation in the next couple of weeks.

Governor Evers offered a similar proposal in his state budget, but Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee removed it. He supports this bill as an alternative.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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