Dental Therapist Bill Struck Down in North Dakota

February 24, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

House Bill 1256 was recently rejected by the North Dakota House of Representatives. The bill would have allowed dental therapists to become licensed in the state and treat patients under the supervision of a practicing dentist.

House Bill 1256 was recently rejected by the North Dakota House of Representatives. The bill would have allowed dental therapists to become licensed in the state and treat patients under the supervision of a practicing dentist.

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If the bill had passed, dental therapists would have been required to graduate from an accredited dental therapy education program and pass standard examinations administered by North Dakota’s dental board. Additionally, it would have been necessary for dental therapists to complete at least 500 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a dentist.

The bill would have granted dental therapists the authority to perform a number of dental procedures under the supervision of a dentist, including but not limited to:

· Evaluation and assessment of dental disease and formulation of an individualized treatment plan,

· Administration of non-narcotic pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, and antibiotics,

· Primary teeth extraction,

· Preparation and placement of certain types of crowns,

· Preparation and placement of direct restorations,

· Suturing and suture removal, and

· Administration of nitrous oxide analgesia and local anesthetics.

The bill was defeated even after a joint policy brief released by The Heartland Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation emphasized the need for dental therapists in North Dakota. According to the brief, nearly 10% of the state’s population, almost 66,663 people, live in 35 identified areas in which there are shortages of dental health professionals. The brief also noted that 72% of children enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program did not receive any preventative dental care, even though they were eligible. According to the authors of the brief, dental therapists could have helped to alleviate these and other problems facing the state’s dentists.

While the role of dental therapists has expanded in Maine, Minnesota, and Vermont, there is still strong opposition to increasing the scope of practice for these dental professionals. The American Dental Association remains opposed to dental therapists performing surgical procedures, while still acknowledging the difficulties people in dental professional shortage areas face when trying to obtain needed dental treatments and services.