Have a Heart for Kids Day 2020

Dental therapist bill will improve oral health

Christina 01/24/11


An oral health improvement bill that the Children’s Alliance helped to shape — House Bill 1310 — is one we’ll be working hard to support.

In response to our state’s oral health care crisis, the bill sets up standards for the education, licensing and practice of dental therapists — a new category of oral health professional who will serve Washingtonians of all ages in places dentists don’t.

It’s an urgent need. Thirty-five of Washington’s 39 counties do not
have enough dental care providers. Our state’s dental access problems
wreak the greatest damage in the mouths of children from low-income
families and children of color. They suffer more untreated cavities and
higher rates of decay. Left untreated, childhood dental problems can
have long term impacts including missing teeth, diabetes, heart disease
and even an early death.

While Apple Health for Kids and the ABCD Program have helped meet the needs of underserved children, these efforts are not enough. Fifty-two percent of children covered by Apple Health for Kids still go without regular dental care.  

Since the 1920s, dental therapists have been employed in more than 50 countries to bring quality, affordable care to those most in need. Working as part of a care team in the same way nurse practitioners work with doctors, dental therapists refer patients needing advanced work, like root canals, to dentists. Read more about HB 1310.

With 35 percent of Washington’s dentists reaching retirement age in the next six years, it’s clear that new dental professionals will be needed – soon. Alaska’s dental therapists are trained at half the cost, in half the time, to meet the needs of chronically underserved patients there quickly. Washington’s kids can’t afford to wait either.

We applaud Representative Eileen Cody for introducing House Bill 1310 and look forward to a statewide discussion about getting all of Washington’s kids the care they need.