Home > Policies > Health > Expanding Dental Access in Maryland

LEGISLATIVE ALERT: To ensure that all Maryland’s children have the dental care they need, please contact the Committee and tell them to  VOTE IN FAVOR of SB1013 by clicking here.

Despite recent progress on expanding access to health care, many Maryland residents still struggle to get dental care.[1] Some cannot find a dentist who accepts public insurance, while others cannot get to a dental office due to mobility or transportation challenges.[2] And many people, regardless of insurance status, are unable to afford the costly prices of dental services.[3]

  • Oral health is a critical component of overall health affects nutrition and quality of life.[4]
  • Tooth decay remains the most common chronic condition among children in the U.S.[5]
  • 42% of Maryland children on Medicaid (ages 1-20) – 274,000 children – did not receive any dental services in 2015.[6]
  • More than 507,000 Maryland residents live in areas designated by the federal government as having a shortage of dentists.[7]
  • There were approximately 48,000 dental visits to Emergency Department (ED) in Maryland in 2014.[8] These visits cost Maryland’s Medicaid program close to $11 million.[9]
  • In 2015, only 1 in 3 dentists participated in the Maryland Healthy Smiles Dental Program (Maryland’s Medicaid dental program for children, pregnant women, and adults with certain high-cost chronic conditions).[10]

Dental therapists can help solve access problems

One effective, common sense solution to increase access to dental care and improve the overall health of Maryland residents is legislation sponsored by Senator Joan Carter Conway and Delegate Bonnie Cullison (SB 1013/HB 1214) to authorize a type of midlevel dental professional known as a dental therapist.

Working under the supervision of dentists, dental therapists are providers who would be able to deliver basic, but critically necessary care such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns and extracting baby teeth and badly diseased permanent teeth. Dental therapists can be used by private practices and public clinics to extend office hours and treat more underserved patients. They are being used in other states to bring care directly to patients in schools, day care centers and nursing homes to care for people unable to receive care in a clinic or office.

Dental therapists began serving Native Alaskans in 2004, Minnesota residents in 2011, have been authorized in Vermont and Maine. They have effectively helped clinics decrease travel and wait times and improved patient satisfaction.[11] Savings from the lower costs of dental therapists allowed private dentists and public health clinics to treat more Medicaid or uninsured patients.[12]

Dental Therapists FAQs
Do you want to know more about what a dental therapist is and does? Please download the PDF.