Expansion of den­tal ser­vices pro­posed

Group of leg­is­la­tors pushes plan for ru­ral oral care im­prove­ment


SANTA FE — A bi­par­ti­san group of New Mex­ico leg­is­la­tors is push­ing to ex­pand den­tal care in ru­ral ar­eas by creating a new sys­tem of li­censed den­tal ther­a­pists — a mid-level pro­fes­sional be­tween a den­tist and a hy­gien­ist.

Oral health, sup­port­ers say, is a foun­da­tion for good over­all health care and well-be­ing.

“Can you imag­ine your­self as a kid hav­ing a tooth ache? It just both­ers you,” Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Je­mez Pue­blo, said in an in­ter­view. “You’re not go­ing to fo­cus on school and so forth.”

A den­tal pro­posal in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion, House Bill 264, won over­whelm­ing ap­proval in the House but failed to reach the Sen­ate floor. It would have es­tab­lished a li­cens­ing sys­tem for den­tal ther­a­pists and al­lowed them to prac­tice in New Mex­ico.

The pri­mary spon­sors were Rep. Den­nis Roch, R-Lo­gan, and Daniel Ivey Soto, D-Al­bu­querque.

But a new coali­tion of law­mak­ers has signed onto the push for den­tal ther­a­pists: Roch, Shendo, Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Tall­man of Al­bu­querque, Repub­li­can Rep. Yvette Her­rell of Alam­ogordo and Demo­cratic Sen. Ger­ald Or­tiz y Pino of Al­bu­querque.

Bar­bara Web­ber, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Health Ac­tion New Mex­ico, a con­sumer health ad­vo­cacy group, said den­tal ther­a­pists would be mid-level pro­fes­sion­als, akin to physi­cian as­sis­tants and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers.

They would get an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree, prob­a­bly through a three-year pro­gram at a com­mu­nity col­lege, she said. The job might pay in the neigh­bor­hood of $60,000 to $70,000 a year, Web­ber said, and fill a crit­i­cal need in New Mex­ico.

About half of the state’s pop­u­la­tion has ad­vanced gum dis­ease, one of the worst rates in the na­tion, Web­ber said.

The up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion is gen­er­ally ded­i­cated to the state bud­get and fi­nan­cial mat­ters. The den­tal pro­posal in­cludes an ap­pro­pri­a­tion, Web­ber said, so it might be con­sid­ered ger­mane to the ses­sion, even if Repub­li­can Gov. Su­sana Martinez doesn’t place it on the agenda.

The 30-day ses­sion starts Jan. 16.

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