Editor’s note: Senate Bill 35 was referred to the Committee on Finance on March 14.
Vermont needs to attract new dentists. As a new dentist to the state of Vermont I have enjoyed learning from my patients and the community about the Vermont way of life. I have learned that Vermonters care deeply about quality. They want to know who grows their food, where and how products are made, and they want to preserve a clean environment. In short, they care deeply about their quality of life.
The Vermont State legislature wants to address dental care access through a bill (S.35) that creates a new type of provider called a licensed dental practitioner. An LDP would only be required to have a dental hygiene degree. After hygiene school they would take an additional year to learn several procedures that takes a traditional dentist four years of post-bachelor’s degrees.
While the Vermont legislature is considering requiring less education to perform permanent and irreversible dental procedures, many states are going in the opposite direction by requiring graduates of dental schools to complete an additional year of residency under direct supervision of a doctor of dentistry due to the growing demand of the profession.
Do Vermonters really want the state to grant this new practitioner the ability to among other things prescribe pain medications, drill primary "baby" and permanent "adult" teeth, provide treatment plans, and simple extractions?
It takes dental students over four years to become proficient in drilling patients’ teeth. My dental school training required over two years of working on mannequins and plastic teeth before treating patients under direct supervision.
The human tooth has very small margin of error. A 1-mm error can lead to a "nerve" exposure. One of the first lessons taught in dental school is that there is no such thing as a simple extraction. Extracting teeth is never predictable.
I question the training for recognizing narcotic dependency within a condensed education. This is a serious question we should ask in a state with a growing narcotics problem.
I would ask supporters of this bill if it really cures the problem Vermonters have in accessing dental care. Will the rural areas of Vermont that truly have limited access to dental care be served? Does this bill address the cost barrier? Simply no, and in fact the dental practitioners with limited education would be get paid that same as doctors of dentistry.
Vermont has the oldest average age of dentists. My personal suggestions would be to invest in three areas to attract the new dentist we will desperately need before long.
First help incoming dentists with loan forgiveness. The military employs such a strategy in exchange for tuition repayment. A similar plan was what first attracted me to Vermont. The legislature could consider tying its remedies to the rural parts of Vermont where the need is greatest.
Second I would grow the dental residency program in Vermont. This would allow dental school graduates to do their residency here and come to love our state as I have done.
Third, I would encourage the state to develop partnerships with the dental schools of New England to establish dedicated slots for Vermont high school graduates. This would attract some of our young bright students to a profession and state that needs them.
Derek Cimler is a Doctor of Dental Surgery from Vergennes.