BANGOR — The state’s first dental therapist has been licensed. And she hopes she’ll have more company in the coming months and years, boosting access to dental care in a rural, underserved state.

Dental therapists, likened to nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants, are recognized in 13 states and two territories. Claire Roesler became the first one licensed in Maine on Friday.

Roesler, 26, came from the Midwest to take a job in Bangor knowing that she can play a role as an advocate for expanding the concept.

“That was a huge draw of coming to Maine. I love advocating for dental therapy. So an opportunity to try something new and to take the movement to the East Coast – it’s a humbling opportunity,” said Roesler, who works at a clinic in Bangor operated by Penobscot Community Health Care.

Therapists have a role to play because they can both clean teeth and perform some of the most common procedures, freeing up dentists to handle advanced procedures like root canals. Therapists can fill cavities, attach temporary crowns and extract loose or diseased teeth.

The Maine Legislature authorized dental therapists in 2014. But a path to licensing wasn’t available until last year.

There’s a great need for dental care in Maine. Roesler, who has been working as a hygienist while awaiting her therapy license, said some of her clients travel two hours to get dental care in Bangor.

A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2018 indicated only 65 percent of adults had seen a dentist in the previous year.

Roesler got her master’s degree in dental therapy at the University of Minnesota and studied alongside dental students. The difference is those dental students will continue their education and learn more advanced procedures in medical school.

“A lot of people look at us as a dental therapist and say you don’t go to school as long as a dentist. That’s because our scope of practice is a small part of what a dentist does,” Roesler said.

For now, therapists could play a role in getting more Mainers in the dental chair, along with the Dental Medicine College at the University of New England, which produced its first class in 2018.

Dental therapists will have to be imported from other states, for now. There are no degree programs on the East Coast, Roesler said.


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