The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Dental Therapy Legislation Clears First Hurdle in New Mexico
Bill passes House Health and Human Services Committee Unanimously
SANTA FE, NM – On Wednesday, lawmakers on the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously voted to advance significant dental therapy legislation. HB 308, sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos (D) and Rep. Gail Armstrong (R), passed the committee by a margin of 8 to 0.
New Mexico is facing an oral health care crisis. Nearly 900,000 New Mexicans live in areas without enough dentists, with the burden falling heavily on rural, tribal, and low-income communities. More than 25 percent of elementary-aged children in New Mexico have untreated tooth decay.
“With dental therapists, we can make a considerable difference in the lives of New Mexicans. Today’s vote is an important first step,” said Barbara Webber of Health Action New Mexico, a leading advocate for the legislation. “It’s imperative our legislators act now to ensure that all of our state’s residents are able to receive the dental care they need in the communities where they live.”
“Good dental care is essential for children to grow up healthy but unfortunately too many of our children do not have access to the routine care they need. They can’t learn when they’re in pain,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which supports the legislation. “Something as seemingly routine as a cavity can have dire consequences on a child’s overall health if it’s not treated, so this is cost-effective in many ways.”
Dental therapists are licensed dental practitioners who work as part of dentist-led teams to expand access to care. Similar to the way a physician’s assistant contributes to a medical team, dental therapists offer routine and preventive care, and complement the work of dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants, increasing the productivity and reach of the dental care team.
This legislative victory marks an important step in moving toward improving oral health care and increasing access to care for all New Mexicans.
The legislation authorizes dental therapists to practice in New Mexico, as they do in a number of other states including neighboring Arizona, which passed legislation just last year. HB 308 allows New Mexico colleges and universities to create dental therapist education programs and several schools are already interested in offering the degree. It also outlines that dental therapists will be able to provide preventive and routine restorative care, offering the most commonly needed services like exams and fillings to underserved patients.
Further, the bill stipulates that dental therapists would be required to practice under the supervision of a dentist, but, with the dentist’s approval, work off-site from their supervisor, collaborating via telehealth technology. This would allow dental therapists to bring care to people where they are, whether that’s in rural or tribal communities or in community settings like schools and nursing homes.
The legislation is supported by the New Mexico Dental Therapist Coalition, which is comprised of a broad, statewide group that includes dentists, service organizations, oral health providers, nonprofits, local governments, tribal leaders, and educational entities, among many others.
More information on the dental therapy effort in New Mexico, as well as a full list of the New Mexico Dental Therapist Coalition’s extensive membership, is available online at https://www.nmdentaltherapists.org/.