August 14, 2022


Health for a better future

Oregon on verge of getting a new type of dentist

Pacific University dental hygiene student Maria Guerrero, left, watches as expanded practice dental hygienist Wilber Ramirez-Rodriguez examines Omar Solano’s teeth aboard the SmileCare Everywhere Mobile Dental Clinic in Beaverton, April 1, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon is about to get a new type of dentist.

A bill to create “dental therapists” has passed Oregon’s House and Senate, and Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign it.

“This is a great day for the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who can’t get access to basic dental care, because they can’t afford it or they live in rural or other areas with very few dentists,” said Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-North and Northeast Portland, the primary sponsor of the bill.

“The passage of this bill means we can start building an expanded and more diverse workforce so everyone has access to the affordable and high-quality dental care they deserve.”

Dental therapists will get less training than a dentist, but more than a dental hygienist. And they will do basic dental procedures like filling cavities and simple extractions — all under the supervision of a dentist.

The hope is the new licensure will reduce the cost of dental care and improve access. The director of the Native Dental Therapy Initiative, Dr. Miranda Davis, said that’s especially needed in rural areas where dentists are scarce. “I think this is monumental and I think this is going to really help the population in Oregon,” she said.

“Dental therapists have been safely serving tribal communities here in Oregon since 2017. This bill paves the way for any underserved community in Oregon to benefit from care closer to home.”

Dental therapists have been licensed in Alaska, Minnesota and Washington for years. Two pilot programs have been operating in Oregon since 2016. Eight other states have approved the licensure of dental therapists.

“Every Oregonian — child and adult — deserves access to basic dental care,” said Amy Coplen, director of Pacific University’s School of Dental Hygiene Studies, which is leading one of Oregon’s dental therapy pilot programs. “This bill reflects the evidence that unequivocally shows that where dental therapists are providing care, access is increased and oral health outcomes are improved.”