Millions of Arizonans struggle to access the dental care they need to lead healthy, productive lives. People go without care because they cannot afford it, cannot find a dentist who will take their insurance, cannot get to the dentist during weekday working hours, or live in an area where there is a shortage of dentists.
To address this problem, Arizona urgently needs to increase access to quality dental care that does not create additional government programs and cost. A proposal submitted to the Legislature would initiate legislation to authorize use of midlevel dental providers, known as dental therapists, who can help expand opportunities to efficiently and effectively serve patients and increase dentists’ revenue.
Dental therapists are similar to physician assistants or nurse practitioners on medical teams. They receive rigorous training in routine preventive and restorative procedures, such as filling cavities and placing stainless steel crowns. When dental therapists provide routine dental care, dentists can focus on more complicated procedures.
Current gaps in care are costly for the state. When people cannot get dental care, they sometimes visit emergency rooms for relief of their symptoms—an expensive and inefficient use of limited health care dollars. A lack of access to dental care especially affects low-income families, children covered by Medicaid, the elderly, people with disabilities, American Indians, and those living in rural communities.