Backers of rural dental care find something to smile about

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Dozens of countries use dental therapists to bring basic dental care to remote areas, often tribal reservations.

But in the U.S., dentists and their powerful lobby have battled legislatures for years on the drive to allow therapists, who perform basic procedures and leave the more complex work to dentists.

The tide is starting to turn, though.

Several states have recently passed laws authorizing dental therapists. Among them are Vermont and Connecticut.

Some states won the support of dentists after bills required higher levels of education that are still less than what a dentist requires.

But the states looking to allow therapists must also find ways to train them. Only two states, Alaska and Minnesota, have educational programs.

Some lawmakers in Maine are optimistic about Vermont’s efforts to set up a dental therapy program with distance-learning options.

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