Dental therapists — a midlevel provider similar to a physician assistant or nurse practitioner — will be a new, licensed profession in Arizona.
Arizona is the seventh U.S. state to allow dental therapy as a profession, said Kristen Mizzi Angelone, dental campaign manager for Pew Charitable Trusts.
Under the law signed Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey, dental therapists will be allowed to practice only in certain settings — tribal settings, federally qualified health centers and other nonprofit community health centers treating low-income patients. The law will take effect Aug. 3.
Dental therapy is seen by supporters as a way of addressing Arizona’s oral health needs because therapists will be able to perform a limited scope of procedures such as fillings, extractions and crowns at a lower cost.
Members of the Tohono O’odham Nation southwest of Tucson were among the most vocal supporters of the legislation, as they see it as offering a career path for tribal members to remain on the reservation without spending as much money as it costs to go to dental school. Tribal members have also indicated interest in setting up dental therapy coursework at Tohono O’odham Community College.
While Arizona tribes may hire federally certified dental therapists from out of state once the new law takes effect in August, it’s expected to be several years before Arizona schools start graduating dental therapists.
The original dental therapy bill was sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, a Republican from Phoenix who has long said adding dental therapists is a “free market solution” to meeting oral health needs in the state.
“Dental therapists are a proven workforce model that will increase affordable care options without creating new, burdensome regulations,” Barto said.