Wisconsin representative proposes bill to allow licensed dental therapists

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A state representative proposed a bill in the Legislature to make dental care more accessible.

(WBAY photo)

Mary Felzkowski, a representative from Irma, is creating a bill to bring licensed dental therapists to the state.

Dental therapists are active in neighboring states but cannot be licensed in Wisconsin.

A dental therapist has training and responsibilities between a dentist and a dental hygienist. A dental therapist can perform the most common procedures, including teeth cleanings and cavities, but can also do some advanced procedures with dentist supervision.

Representative Felzkowski believes dental therapists can help low-income families receive the oral care they need.

“We have 4,000 licensed dentists in the state of Wisconsin, but the concentration of dentists are in areas that just lack enough dentists to take care of that low income population and Medicaid population,” Felzkowski said.

She said 64 out of 72 counties in the state face dental shortages, where low-income families and minorities don't have access to providers.

“We have a huge need to get oral health care into the population and this would make it much more affordable and give us the practitioners to see these children,” said Felzowski.

The Wisconsin Dental Association said access isn't the big issue. WDA President Patrick Tepe believes it's the state's low reimbursement rate.

“Right now to see a patient on Medicaid that small business owner basically is doing it as a charitable service and that isn’t a state program,” Tepe said.

Tepe said that the WDA is not against dental therapists, they just don't know if it can solve the problem.

“There are too many folks on Medicaid that can’t identify with a Medicaid provider,” said Tepe.

Felzkowski said the state senate will have a hearing on the bill in July.

Read the original version of this article at www.wbay.com.