Dental professionals across the state are watching a bill making its way through the Legislature that they say could decrease the quality of dental care in the state and make it more difficult for patients to get procedures completed.

Others, however, argue that LD 1230, “An Act to Improve Access to Oral Health Care,” will approve the creation of a new midlevel dental provider and ease the shortage of dentists in the state. This will then provide preventive oral health care in places where there is a shortage.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. He said that while he understands that dentists and others in the profession are concerned about the bill, he believes it will go a long way in easing the dental shortage in Maine, helping to reduce the 55 percent of children on MaineCare who currently don’t see a dentist.

He said late last week that the dental hygiene therapists established by the bill would be authorized to perform a very limited number of procedures like drilling and filling surface cavities and removing loose teeth, and they would have to practice under the supervision of a dentist. They would also have a hygiene degree, plus an additional 500 hours of clinical training under the supervision of a dentist.

While it has gotten bipartisan support, it has rankled the Maine Dental Association. Last month, more than 100 dentists representing all 16 counties in Maine opposed the bill.

“While Maine dentists are working to get more children and adults into dental offices and clinics that have vacant chairs and available appointments, this group proposes letting people with minimal training perform invasive surgical procedures,” said Dr. Michelle Mazur-Kary, an endodontist and president of the Maine Dental Association.

Mazur-Kary said that the MDA opposes the bill because its members believe that the therapists will not have enough training to perform the procedures that they will be allowed to undertake if the bill passes. They also believe that they simply aren’t needed, as Maine has made significant progress in improving children’s oral health over the past 10 years.

In 2011, the MDA said, Maine third-graders had the second-lowest rate of untreated tooth decay in the country. FOR MORE, see the Bangor Daily

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