Governor Signs Game-Changing Dental Therapy Bill into Law

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Governor Signs Game-Changing Dental Therapy Bill into Law

Creates a New Career Path for New Mexicans and Better Access to Oral Health Care

SANTA FE, NM – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed HB 308 into law making New Mexico the eighth state to allow dental therapists to practice in some or all settings. (While Alaska also has dental therapists, the statute there was enacted under federal and tribal law.) The legislation, carried by lead sponsor Rep. Doreen Gallegos (D-District 52) and Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-District 49) in the House and sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr. (D-District 22) in the Senate, had overwhelming support in both chambers. 

“We are grateful to the Legislature and the governor for making dental therapists a reality in New Mexico,” said James Jimenez, executive director on New Mexico Voices for Children. “This law not only creates a new career path for New Mexicans, but it also helps to address a critical need in many of our communities – better access to oral health care. This will be a game-changer.”

Most of the bill becomes effective on June 14, 2019. One of the next steps will be for New Mexico colleges and universities to develop and begin offering the degree program. Several schools have expressed interest in adding the degree to their current dental programs.

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, which impacts their ability to succeed in school and live healthy lives.

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.

The new law 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. 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.
It also ensures that Tribes are able to exercise their sovereign right to create policies that best serve the needs of their communities. Tribal leaders initially brought dental therapy to the U.S. because it met a crucial need, and while dental therapists have spread beyond Indian Country, Tribes continue to lead the way on implementing this innovative solution.