MONTPELIER >> Vermont is on track to be the fifth state to license midlevel dental providers, a move that advocates say will increase access to routine dental procedures.
The House passed S.20 in a voice vote Tuesday. The Senate approved a previous version of the bill in 2015 and will now decide whether to approve the House's changes or move to a conference committee.
S.20 creates a new profession regulated through the Office of Professional Regulation called dental therapist. The profession requires four years of training — more than a dental hygienist but less than a dentist.
Gov. Peter Shumlin supports the measure, according to his spokesperson, Scott Coriell. So does House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, who praised the bill in a statement Tuesday.
"Studies have suggested a correlation between dental health and economic success," Smith said. "Unfortunately, too few low-income and uninsured Vermonters have access to quality dental care."
"Dental therapists will work alongside dentists and dental hygienists to treat patients, similar to how physician assistants have increased the number of health care providers in doctors' offices around the state," he said. "I encourage the Senate and governor to act on this proposal so more Vermonters can access the care that they need."
Before passing the bill, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, that makes it clear that dentists will not be required to employ or supervise dental therapists if they do not want to.
The group Voices for Vermont's Children supports the bill. The Vermont Dental Society is opposed.