Today the House Human Services committee voted 9-2 in favor of advancing S.20, a bill that would allow dental therapists to offer care in Vermont.
Dental therapists are dental professionals with a scope of practice beyond that of a hygienist, but not as expansive as a dentist. Dental therapists are part of the dental workforce in Alaska and Minnesota, as well as more than 50 countries around the world.
S.20 passed the Senate last spring, and the bill now moves to the Government Operations Committee before getting to the floor of the House. The bill is supported by the Vermont Oral Health Care for All coalition comprised of over forty organizations, including health care providers and organizations that advocate on behalf of children, consumers and the elderly.
Below you can find a recent commentary by Sandy Joslin, a dental hygienist and case manager at the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre.
I am a Vermonter. A farmer’s daughter, born and raised on Edgemont Farm in Montpelier. I am also a dental hygienist who travels 296 miles every week to make a modest paycheck.
I am not complaining. Dental hygiene is the career I chose because I wanted to be able to support my family and make a difference in my community. I am proud of my Vermont heritage and my profession. But, after being in practice for 38 years, I am tired of working in a dental care system that often fails its patients and doesn’t provide professionals like me enough opportunities to grow and thrive.
It is time for a change.
As a little girl, I used to walk down to the Statehouse as a child and play on one of the canons that used to be on the lawn and wonder, with a child’s imagination, just what was happening inside that big beautiful Statehouse. I used to think it the highest calling to be a legislator in public service and to have so many people counting on your good governance.
I still think that, which is why I am calling on our Legislature to do what is right for the state of Vermont and pass S.20 this legislative session. S.20 will allow dental therapists to practice in our state. Dental therapists are oral health care providers that work with dentists much like physician assistants work with doctors. They provide routine and preventive care, allowing the dentist to focus on the most complex things that only they can do.
Dental therapists have been practicing in the U.S. to great success for more than 10 years and around the world for nearly 100. In Minnesota, dental therapists have expanded access to care for lower income children and have been so successful for one private practice dentist that he is expanding his practice and hiring another full-time dentist.
Here in Vermont, dental therapists would be educated at Vermont Technical College, where most of our hygienists are currently trained. They would practice in communities — in health clinics, nursing homes, school-based health centers — bringing dental care to where people live and work.
S.20 gives us an opportunity to advance the dental profession in our state. It will broaden the conversation between oral health care providers at every level and to allow the fresh air and creative problem solving we desperately need to address Vermont’s oral health crisis. And, we do have an oral health crisis in our state.
I currently work for three separate community health providers that treat our most vulnerable neighbors — not long ago, I treated a 16-year-old boy who had such rampant decay he was at risk of losing all of his teeth. He was one of the lucky ones because he got help in time. At People’s Health and Wellness Clinic in Barre, where I am the dental case manager and clinical hygienist, I talk to people every day who are in pain and at risk of serious infection if they don’t get care. And I see too many children who are prematurely losing their baby teeth and are at risk for rampant decay.
Passing this bill will allow Vermonters greater access to critically needed preventive dental services and will have an economic impact. S.20 will expand career opportunities and likely increase dental hygienists’ earning potential — vitally important things in a profession comprised primarily of women working to support their families. In addition, the uninsured will have greater access to preventive care and maybe, just maybe, stop seeking costly dental care in emergency departments around the state.
We are at a crossroads. The present dental care system needs to work better for patients who need care and the hygienists who want to do more for them. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can and we should choose change. Change that WILL make a positive impact in the lives of many, many children, young people, families, career men and women, and the growing population of elderly among us.
Your vote to bring dental therapy to Vermont can improve both the state of our economy and our dental health. We cannot afford to say no to this timely opportunity for growth. Please say YES to Bill S.20.