Jan 28, 2014 -- AUGUSTA, Maine -- A bill to increase access to oral health care for children and adults in Maine passed the Maine House on Tuesday, January 28th, in a vote of 102-39.
The bill, LD 1230, was held back last year for further consideration. It would allow hygiene therapists to do dental work previously only done in the state by dentists, such as small fillings and baby tooth extractions.
“I’d like to be one of the first ones,” said Cathy Kasparak, a hygienist and the president of the Maine Dental Hygienists Association.
Kasparak said she hopes the bill will pass so she can start helping more Mainers get dental care. Right now, most dentists are in bigger cities and very few accept MaineCare patients, she said.
“I see it as a need that a lot of them can get here, but they can’t get to other places,” Kasparak said.
About half of the state’s 1,300 hygienists are out of work right now, she said.
The bill would allow hygienists to get two more years of schooling plus 1,000 clinical training hours to be able to start doing dental work such as filling small cavities and pulling baby teeth.
“This would put hygienists back to work and also help with access to care,” Kasparak said. “So, it’s a workforce issue and a care issue.”
Minnesota and Alaska are currently the only two states to utilize dental therapists to provide increased access to oral health care.
Critics of the bill have said there isn't a need for more dentists, just the ability to get to a dental office. The Maine Dental Association has voiced concern in the past that allowing the bill to pass won't fix any underlying problems with Maine's dental care.
Leslie Elston and other dentists said it’s a safety issue and a money issue. “It’s going to make it uncomfortable or people will question practicing in Maine if you’re going to have competition with less-trained, less-qualified providers that can offer care at a reduced rate,” Elston said.
Elston said she does pro bono work but doesn’t accept MaineCare at her two practices in Bridgton and Windham. She said there is a need for more dental care in the state, but doesn’t support the bill.
“I think expanding duties for hygienists to include more invasive procedures … I don’t think it’s going to be what the patients in the state of Maine are going to be requiring,” Elston said.
The bill is expected to head to the Senate on Thursday.