Maine coalition supports dental hygiene therapists

To provide more access to affordable dental care, a coalition of oral health activists in Maine is continuing efforts to create a new category of dental hygienists.

Dental Access for ME is starting a campaign in support of a bill that would create a new license for dental hygiene therapists. This bill would allow them to do some procedures normally performed by dentists, such as restorations and extractions, according to an Associated Press story.

In June, Maine's state Senate rejected a bill that would have created dental hygiene therapists a day after the House of Representatives approved it.

The bill would have established a license for a dental hygiene therapist that would require a therapist to graduate from a dental hygiene therapy program and complete 1,000 hours of clinical training supervised by a dentist. Hygiene therapists would be allowed to operate a practice in Maine as long as they had a supervisory agreement with a licensed dentist.

The bill is expected to be taken up when the Legislature returns in January.

Supporters note that 15 of Maine's 16 counties are federally designated health shortage areas for dentists. Also, nearly a quarter of Maine dentists plan to retire in the next five years and 16% expect to reduce their hours.

Dental hygiene therapists are already allowed in Minnesota, Alaska, and 53 other countries.

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