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Ohio to Follow Minnesota's Lead on Dental-Care Access

Children's Dental Services has been working to improve the oral health of Minnesota kids since 1919. (
Children's Dental Services has been working to improve the oral health of Minnesota kids since 1919. (
November 29, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS – Supporters of a bill to expand dental access in Ohio are touting the success of a similar bill in Minnesota. In 2009, lawmakers in Minnesota approved the licensure of dental therapists to address its growing oral health-care crisis.

Sara Wovcha, executive director of Children's Dental Services in Minnesota, said dental therapists are highly trained and perform preventive care and routine services such as exams and fillings at a lower cost.

"We are ending up with a qualified provider with a reduced scope of practice but a very important scope of practice that's more cost-effective for us to use," she said.

She said dental therapists now are working in rural communities where there aren't enough dentists, allowing dentists to see more patients and focus on more complex cases. Senate Bill 330 in Ohio would allow the use of dental therapists, which supporters argue would help the one and a half million people living in areas with limited access to dentists.

The Ohio Dental Association opposes the legislation, claiming it offers inadequate training for a broad scope of practice.

Dr. Larry Hill, a dental public-health consultant and the former dental director for the Cincinnati Health Department disagreed and contended that there is a lack of understanding about dental therapists within organized dentistry.

"There's a lot of misinformation that has been disseminated," he said. "And it's crazy to neglect or turn away from cost-effective solutions that have been proven to work in other places. Ohio needs those solutions."

Wovcha said around 60 dental therapists are practicing in Minnesota and they have been trained side by side with dentists. She said when it comes time for them to get licensed, it's a blind test.

"The evaluators don't know whether they're testing a dentist or a dental therapist so it's strictly competency based," she added.

Children's Dental Services provides dental care to children from families with low incomes, and Wovcha said dental therapists charge much less than regular dentists do, so they can make their funding stretch further.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MN