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The COVID epidemic has limited Oregonians’ access to all sorts of things. That includes limiting our access — especially early in the pandemic —to basic dental care.
For many people in Oregon, that care is available again.
But for more than 1 million people in the state, that basic dental care is as out of reach as it ever was. That’s because — even before COVID — more than one million Oregonians lived in areas with a shortage of dentists. In fact, 24 primary care service areas in rural Oregon — areas sometimes covering hundreds of square miles — have no full-time dentist at all.
That continues to have profound effects on dental health, and the overall health, of many, many Oregonians.
We want to give those Oregonians access to the basic dental care they deserve. That’s why we will be supporting a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would allow Oregon to license dental therapists — primary oral health care providers akin to physician assistants in medicine.
Dental therapists have special training to perform the basics of dental care: exams, fillings, simple extractions of bad teeth – always under the supervision of a dentist. In countries and U.S. states where dental therapists work, many more people have access to dental care. That care has profound effects on their daily lives. And it prevents larger dental and health problems later.
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Given the state’s current budget issues, we believe the Legislature should focus this session on policy bills that offer long-term healthcare solutions with little or no financial cost to the state. That’s true of the dental therapy bill. (The bill calls for a system similar to that for other dental professions in Oregon, where license fees would support the cost of the program). And the bill would simply allow the state to license dental care providers who prove they have the education and training to provide expert dental therapy services.
Over the past several months, a legislative workgroup has been gathering — in online meetings— to explore the best way to move our dental therapy proposal forward.
Sen. Monnes Anderson introduced dental therapy legislation during the 2020 legislative session. But during the very short session, it was clear more work needed to be done to answer questions about the legislation and work out details. A dental therapy legislative workgroup that included both of us, along with representatives from dental care, healthcare and community-based organizations and Tribes met over the summer to do just that.
The workgroup included supporters and opponents of the 2020 legislation and made suggestions to strengthen the bill. We believe the bill can now win broad support during the 2021 Oregon legislative session.
We want to offer our sincere appreciation to every workgroup member, and to experts who offered invaluable information to help us improve the proposal that will be moving forward in the 2021 session.
We look forward to more discussions with our constituents and colleagues about our proposal throughout the upcoming session. And we believe this strongly: Oregon will soon have a better model of delivering first-rate, high-quality dental care to many more Oregonians who need and deserve that care.
Sen.Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, is retiring from the Oregon Legislature after serving for 16 years in the Senate and four years in the House of Representatives. You may reach her at [email protected] Rep.Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, represents North and Northeast Portland. You may reach her at [email protected]
Read or Share this story: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/2020/10/09/oregon-legislation-would-license-dental-therapists-provide-basic-dental-care/5901975002/