Vermont Governor Signs Dental Therapist Law

Vermont has created a new "dental therapist" designation, and will allow therapists to perform many procedures that previously only dentists could undertake.

Vermont is joining the small number of states that allow mid-level providers to perform procedures previously restricted to qualified dentists.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D; pictured at left) signed the state’s dental therapist law earlier this month. He held an event Monday to promote the enactment of the law, which he says will expand access to dental care in the state and improve the overall health of the state’s residents.

“Having dental therapists available to work with dentists and hygienists will make it easier for Vermonters to get the care they need, closer to home and no matter what type of insurance they have,” he said, in a press release.

The law means dental therapists—professionals with more training than a hygienist but less than a dentist—will be able to perform 34 procedures, including filling cavities, extracting teeth, and placing temporary dental crowns.

Shumlin’s office said the state’s dentists are unequally distributed across the state, creating access issues. He also noted that 60% of the state’s dentists are over the age of 50, a statistic that has raised concerns the state could soon be facing a major overall shortage of dentists.

With the enactment of the law, Vermont Technical College will be creating a dental therapist training program. The college already hosts a training program for dental hygienists.

The law is controversial in the dental community, as many worry such programs will lower the standard of care in the state. Many of the industry’s major trade groups have expressed concerns about the Vermont bill and other similar bills.

Among the opponents of the bill was the Vermont Dental Society, which raised concerns that mid-level providers might not have sufficient training to perform the procedures they are being assigned. Further, national studies have shown Vermont has better access to care than most states.

A 2008 study from the University of South Carolina, for instance, found children in rural areas of Vermont saw a dentist for preventative care at a higher rate than any other state.