OLYMPIA – More rural and underserved communities will have access to preventive dental care soon, thanks to a bill signed into law by the governor today. HB 1678 allows dental therapy in Washington state in certain limited settings and was prime sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), chair of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.
“All health starts with oral health and with more dental therapists operating in Washington state, we’re going to see positive health outcomes by taking care of people’s teeth. Expanding access to dental health care has been a top priority of mine and I’m pleased we were able to pass this bill in my first year as chair of the committee,” said Riccelli. “Thank you to all of the advocates, dental care professionals, and community members who advocated for greater access to dental health care.”
Sarah Chagnon, Licensed Dental Therapist for the Swinomish Dental Clinic: “This bill means healing and peace. It is a big step in creating oral health equity in our own and surrounding communities. Having a dental therapist opens the door to more care. Oral health is overall health; everyone deserves a happy and healthy smile. It is a massive day of celebration for us because we’ve worked so hard to bring advocacy to these efforts. It is a culmination of all the hard work of many amazing people and organizations. Like all new paths being forged, there will be bumps along the way, but finally, we made it, and it’s the best feeling ever! I love what I do and hope to inspire future dental therapists.”
Dr. Rachael Hogan, Director of the Swinomish Dental Clinic: “Today, 70% of Swinomish dental providers are Native American. Compare that to the less than 1% of native dental providers nationwide. This is just one example of how dental therapy models increase representation of underserved and underseen communities. We are a dental home to our patients where they have ownership of their treatment and we are accountable to them to provide only the best care.”
“This is the culmination of a significant amount of hard work by our partners, advocates, community members, oral health professionals, and legislative supporters,” said Marcy Bowers, executive director of Statewide Poverty Action Network and leader of the Washington Dental Access Campaign. “Representative Marcus Riccelli was a very strong champion for this bill and was instrumental in shepherding it through the legislative process while staying true to our core values. I am thrilled to see dental therapy start to open up access to care in communities where it is needed most.”
A dental therapist is supervised by a dentist and can provide fillings, preventive services, and emergency services such as adult teeth extraction if a dentist authorizes that course of action. Educational requirements for dental therapists are a two-year educational and clinical program with at least 400 hours of supervision with a licensed dentist. Washington state has previously only allowed dental therapists on tribal lands.