AUGUSTA — The Legislature on Thursday moved closer to enacting a bill that would allow dental hygienists to receive additional training in order to take on some duties currently performed by licensed dentists.
L.D. 1230, sponsored by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, would create a “mid-level dental therapist” position in Maine. Proponents of the bill say it’s an attempt to increase access to dental care, especially in rural areas.
An amended version of the bill was approved by the House on Thursday without a roll call vote. The amendment, designed to gain the support of Gov. Paul LePage, strengthens portions of the bill to ensure that therapists are directly supervised by licensed dentists. The original version of the bill required dentists to oversee the work of therapists, but the amendment requires that applicants acquire written permission from a licensed dentist and that the dentist has to be participate in the patient diagnosis before the therapist can perform a procedure.
The bill requires additional votes in the House and Senate before reaching the governor.
Groups representing dentists had fiercely opposed the original measure, saying the state’s current shortage of dentists will be alleviated as dentists begin graduating from the University of New England’s new dental school in three or four years. However, that opposition appears to be diminishing along with the adoption of the new supervisory standards.
Supporters say the bill would allow therapists to work in dental practices in rural areas where dental care is not readily available to some residents. The proposal is modeled after a law in Minnesota, which is one of just two states that allow dental therapists to practice. Alaska is the other state.
Twenty-nine therapists have become licensed since the lawmakers enacted the Minnesota law, which went into effect in 2009. Fifty-three countries including Canada allow dental hygienists to become dental therapists.
Under the Maine bill, a dental therapist could open his or her own private practice. However, applicants would need written permission from a Maine dentist while working under the direct supervision of a dentist. Such supervision would require therapists to have supervising dentists check their work, such as examining X-rays.
Supporters said the bill would allow hygienists to receive additional training to do as many as 53 procedures. Licensed dentists, with eight years of training, can do more than 500 procedures.
A dental therapist would be allowed to fill cavities, but not perform root canals.
The new position’s status in relation to a dentist would be similar to the one between a nurse-practitioner and a doctor.
Dental therapists would receive a minimum of four years of training and as many as six years. They also would need 1,000 hours of clinical training with a licensed dentist before becoming certified.
This story has been updated to further explain the amended version of the bill.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: