Dental Care for Arizona Coalition Celebrates as Governor Doug Ducey Signs Dental Therapy Bill Into Law

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New licensure and workforce law to serve as model legislation for dental therapy. Dental therapists are expected to increase access to oral care for millions of underserved Arizonans

The bipartisan coalition Dental Care for Arizona led the effort to bring dental therapy to Arizona

The bipartisan coalition Dental Care for Arizona led the effort to bring dental therapy to Arizona

“We worked hard to bring all stakeholders to the table and the result is a bill that serves as model legislation for the rest of the country.” - State Senator Nancy Barto

On Wednesday, May 16th, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed HB2235 into law, creating the licensing and regulatory structure to allow dental therapists to practice in Arizona. The law is considered the most expansive of any state in the union, and the first of its kind in the Southwest. The law goes into effect on August 3rd, 2018. Dental therapists are highly trained allied health professionals who can play a critical role in expanding the dental team, similar to the role nurse practitioners and physician assistants play in medicine.

Bipartisan Support for a Proven Workforce Model

Legislators on both sides of the political aisle came together, enthusiastically backing dental therapy as a way to address Arizona’s urgent need for dental providers. Especially in light of the critical need facing so many rural, Tribal and underserved communities.

“Dental therapists are a proven workforce model that will increase affordable care options without creating new, burdensome regulations,” said Senator Nancy Barto, the bill’s original sponsor. “We worked hard to bring all stakeholders to the table and the result is a bill that serves as model legislation for the rest of the country.”

Representative Pamela Powers Hannley, a Tucson-area Democrat who played a key role in the dental therapy effort, shared her excitement for the new workforce model in Arizona: “This law will create new, high quality jobs while increasing access to safe, quality and affordable oral healthcare to hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who lack access today. Preventing dental disease is critical to healthy populations and a healthy economy.”

Momentum Builds for Dental Therapy Nationwide to Address Access Crisis

Arizona joins six states that have authorized dental therapists in some capacity, and the dozen or so more who are exploring this commonsense, free market approach to addressing the oral health crisis facing more than 125 million Americans. These include Alaska, Minnesota and on tribal lands in Oregon and Washington State. Maine and Vermont have passed authorizing legislation and are developing the educational programs to train dental therapists. “Having dental therapists as an option in Arizona will help meet the need in underserved populations, both rural and urban. They will help create healthy communities and a healthy workforce,” said Senator Juan Mendez, co-chair of the Arizona Latino Caucus. Mendez emphasized that Latino and Native American populations, especially children and the elderly, suffer from lack of access to care at higher rates compared to the rest of Arizona.

Training and Supervision

The new dental therapy law dictates strict standards for the training, licensure and regulation of dental therapists. Dental therapists will have a narrow scope of practice to work under indirect supervision, under a collaborative agreement with a dentist, after completing the rigorous degree requirements. In practice, dental therapists become experts in the small number of procedures for which they are allowed to perform. Because their scope is limited, training takes less time and is less expensive, dental therapists salaries are lower than dentists, giving dentists a more cost-effective way to see more patients including those on Medicaid.

“The dental therapy model requires that these practitioners be as highly skilled in their limited scope of practice as dentists are,” said Deb Kappes, RDH, MPH and Vice President of the Arizona Dental Hygienists Association. “They will take the same clinical exams required for licensure that our dentists take, for the procedures within their scope of practice. They will be trained in programs accredited by the same entity that accredits our dental schools in Arizona and across the nation. This is an innovative, cost-effective free market solution to the oral health crisis that exists in rural and underserved communities across or great state.”

For more information on dental therapist licensing efforts in Arizona, please visit the

About Dental Care for Arizona

Dental Care for Arizona is a coalition of 21-member organizations working together to enhance access to high quality oral healthcare for all Arizonans. These organizations support licensing dental therapists as an innovative way to expand access to high quality and affordable care.

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Marco Ceglie