New bill looks to expand dental healthcare access

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Access to dental care in rural and poor communities is limited, according to the department of health and human services.

People in the industry say the proposal should be looked at as a collaboration amongst medical professionals.

To combat this, there's a new bill making its way through the state legislature allowing the use of dental therapists to provide basic services.

Dental Hygiene Program Manager at CVTC, Pam Entorf, says more states across the country are adopting the practice of dental therapists.

"Minnesota was one of the first, and that was ten years ago that they have been educating dental therapists and using them very effectively,” Entorf said.

Entorf says there are some things dental therapists can't do for patients.

"They're there to help with some of the procedures that can be delegated to them with additional education,” she said. “For instance, a dental therapist cannot do root canals, cannot do crown and bridge, they cannot fabricate dentures and they can’t do implants or surgery"

So what can a dental therapist do?

"They can do fillings; they can do all of the procedures that can be done on a child. They can place temporary restorations, they can place banding,” Entorf said. “There are a lot of things they can do, but it is delegated under and through the collaboration of a dentist."

People in the industry say the proposal should be looked at as a collaboration amongst medical professionals.

"It should be a collaboration, everyone working on the dental healthcare team to provide care to patients, no matter what their economic status is,” she said.

Entorf says a dental therapist goes through the same training as a dental hygienist, followed by two extra years of schooling.

She also says a dental therapist can be looked at as similar to a nurse practitioner, who can do a lot of the same things a doctor can, but with less schooling.

While the proposal does have bipartisan support, it is facing stiff opposition from the Wisconsin Dental Association, saying the bill does not directly address the problem.

Marquette University, which houses the state's only dental school, is also opposed to the legislation.

Senator Kathy Bernier says she is in favor of dentists hiring dental therapists to work in rural areas.