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Dental therapy will be heard in Senate Public Affairs Committee on Friday, March 10!

Thanks to the dedication and persistence of all dental therapy supporters, HB 264 (Access to Dental Care Act) passed the House of Representatives by overwhelming margins!

House Health and Human Services Committee Vote: 5-0
House State Government, Indian and Veteran Affairs Vote: 9-0
NM House of Representatives Floor Vote: 60-5

Momentum is on our side and we must now get the bill through the Senate.

HB 264 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Public Affairs Committee (SPAC) on Friday, March 10, 2017.
There is a chance that the bill will be heard on Saturday - we will keep you posted if this is the case. Please contact members of SPAC and urge them to support the bill.

Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D) 

Bill B. O'Neill (D)

Craig W. Brandt (R)

Candace Gould (R)

Elizabeth "Liz" Stefanics (D)

Jeff Steinborn (D)

Mimi Stewart (D)

Stuart Ingle (R)

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Vermont Signs in to Law Dental Therapist Bill

A Victory in Vermont is a Victory for All
Vermont establishes the practice of dental therapists, increases access to dental care for all Vermonters.


It took nine hundred community members and forty state organizations. It took the stories of the people and the facts that backed up their experience. It took the hard work of activists like Voices for Vermont Children. But it happened! 

We are so pleased to announce that this week, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a law that establishes the practice of dental therapists in Vermont. Vermont’s decision to authorize dental therapists is monumental step forward in this mission to make dental care more accessible. 

As we rally New Mexico residents and we urge our lawmakers to consider dental therapy as a cost-effective, scalable approach to making the dental care system work better for patients, we are thrilled to be able to point to this recent victory in Vermont. 

This innovative, team-based approach enables dental practices to increase the number of people they can serve, is cost-efficient and patient-focused. 

In the past year alone, close to a dozen states and tribes, including New Mexico, have pursued establishing these health care professionals as a way to solve deep oral health disparities and severe unmet dental needs. Dental therapists currently practice in Minnesota and on tribal land in Alaska and Washington. They are authorized to practice in Maine and will soon be practicing in Oregon under a statewide pilot program.  

And this is just the beginning! The momentum is building, and the need in New Mexico is real. Over half of all New Mexicans have advanced dental disease. One-in-three 3rd graders sit in class with untreated dental disease. And 1.3 million people live in counties that are recognized as having insufficient access to dental care. It’s time to work together to find a way to end this epidemic. It’s time to make dental therapists part of the dental care team.

We know that the victory in Vermont is a step in the right direction for our nation, and this victory provides an opportunity to continue to push for increased access to high-quality dental care in New Mexico. Just last year, the NM Dental Hygienists Association Health Action NM and the reached an agreement with the NM Dental Association to advance common ground legislation to make dental therapists part of the New Mexico dental care team. The legislation will be filed during the 2017 legislative session. We hope state leaders will rise to the occasion and make New Mexico the next state to bring high quality dental care to more of our people.

Join Health Action New Mexico as we applaud Vermont’s progress and join us as we make access to dental care a priority in New Mexico.

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Standards for Dental Therapists are ready to be implemented!

by Ellie Perkins - Dental Therapy Intern at Health Action New Mexico

Big news on the dental therapy front! The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the organization responsible for accreditation of dental education facilities nationwide, adopted accreditation standards for dental therapy education programs on February 6th 2015. Now, Health Action NM, in partnership with numerous other national and local organizations, is asking CODA to begin implementing the newly adopted standards for existing and new educational programs. 

So what is keeping CODA from implementing dental therapy education accreditation? According to the American Dental Association, further information on two criteria are needed before accreditation can take place: (1) has the allied dental education area been in operation for a sufficient period of time to establish benchmarks and adequately measure performance, and (2) is there evidence of need and support from the public and professional communities to sustain educational programs in the discipline. It is the position of Health Action NM that these criteria have clearly been met in the three dental therapy training programs already operating in Alaska and Minnesota and will be met as more states establish dental therapy education programs to address the lack of access to dental care for underserved communities in their state.  The time is now to start implementing accreditation standards.  Click here to read our letter to CODA.



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Notes from the field: An Enrollment Outreach Worker Supports Dental Therapists

Guest post by Maria Perez

I worked on consumer outreach and education during this first open enrollment period in New Mexico. And as I talked to the uninsured about the amazing possibility of gaining health coverage, the first reaction I usually got was one of suspicion.

“Do you work for the State? For the Insurance Companies?”

This happened a lot. Once I explain, sometimes two or three times, that I work for a non-profit organization devoted to issues of health access and advocacy, people begn to warm up to the idea that maybe this Obamacare thing is actually happening, and that somehow it may actually benefit them and their families.

Then they start getting excited and asking lots of pertinent questions.

One of the most common questions I got was “Will dental be included in these plans?” It is amazing how much people have to put off getting dental care in this state! It is not uncommon to hear stories of how working families haven’t been able to get dental care in over a decade.

I tell them that Medicaid does include dental care in its plan, and the relief that I sense from these folks is intense.

But the question remains, how will so many people who have been putting off their dental care gain actual access to the services when there is such a shortage of providers? I advise them to be patient in regards to this. Yes, they will gain access to dental care, but it will take some time to come up with a workforce solution.

For this very reason, New Mexico needs Dental Therapists!

Word of Mouth

Sobering map of NM's dental crisis


Dentists Map_V3.jpg


There are five counties in the state of New Mexico that don't have a single dentist. And 32 of 33 counties are all, or in part, federally designated health provider shortage areas. 

It is time for this to change. Our legislators have the power to pass House Bill 306, the Dental Therapist Licensure Act bill, this week. Don't make New Mexicans wait another year.

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Maine is gaining some ground for dental health

Maine takes another big step for Dental Therapists

A major victory today in Maine – their Dental Therapy bill got initial approval from the state Senate. Earlier this week it passed the state House on Tuesday.  By conrast, last year the bill died in the Senate, losing by 7 votes. 

While they still have to have another vote next week on enactment, they got 19 votes. This means that they can lose one vote and still be safe to win 18-17.  They will need to hold those votes in the face of great pressure from the dental associations’ lobbyists.  We cannot assume this is a done deal.  However, it is great news and a huge acheivement for Maine's people.

Let's follow Maine's lead to make Dental Therapists a reality for New Mexico. 

Maine takes another big step to improve dental access for their state. Photo source here.



Maine Senate advances bill to create ‘dental therapists’: The proposal would allow dental hygienists to perform some procedures currently performed by dentists.

AUGUSTA -- The Maine Senate on Wednesday continued to a push a bill that would allow some dental hygienists to perform some duties currently performed by licensed dentists.

The proposal, L.D. 1230, sponsored by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, would create a new dental health position in the state, a “mid-level dental therapist.” Proponents say the bill is an attempt to increase access to dental care, especially in rural areas. However, groups representing dentists have fiercely opposed the measure, saying the state’s current shortage of dentists will be filled.


Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said the bill would increase dental care for poor and rural Mainers. He noted that only 12 percent of the state’s dentists currently accept MaineCare patients. MaineCare is the state’s version of Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.


Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he was originally ambivalent about the proposal, but not any longer. Katz said that proposal doesn’t force dentists to hire a dental therapists, but it could increase profits while expanding coverage if they do. He said that if two-thirds of the children in the state don’t have a dentists, then the current marketplace is broken.

“The status quo isn’t working,” he said. “This is the right thing for our state.”


The full article can be found on our Dental News feed. You can subscribe to the news feed to get real-time updates! Just click the small orange button in the top right corner.

Story from the  


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Once Is Chance, Twice is Coincidence, Third Time Is a Trend

This post was originally posted on the Health Policy Hub Blog.

- - -

Rowena Ventura, director of We Are the Uninsured in Cleveland, knows firsthand the horrific effects that the lack of affordable dental care can have. She tells of how a woman she knew died on the streets after losing her job because she was unable to see a dentist and of how her own son, a roofer, wound up pulling his own tooth and losing three more after he got an infection.

Every day, millions of Americans, like those in Rowena’s life, suffer and struggle because they can’t get dental care. In 2010, 181 million children and adults went without any dental care at all.

With glaring gaps in the delivery system preventing people from getting affordable care in their community, policymakers, researchers and the media are increasingly focusing on the use of dental therapists – an evidence-based solution that can address this crisis, one that expands the ability of the dental team to treat underserved populations. In the last few weeks, we have seen a trend of independent research and support from policymakers and dentists emerge.

First, Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley issued a Joint Staff Report in which they note that access to dental services is a concern and empowering mid-level providers is a common-sense solution.

Dr. Richard Katz, a California dentist and business owner, raised mid-level dental providers again, in an op-ed published Aug. 6 in the Huffington Post, where he asserted that mid-levels known as dental therapists “can improve the lack of access to many Americans, as one in seven live in an area where there is very little availability. These mid-level practitioners would be able to serve more people at a lower cost.”

And, on Aug. 9, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog carried a piece by Harold Pollack that shed light on the severe problems in our dental delivery and financing system. Some 85 million Americans lack dental insurance; Pollack notes that while raising Medicaid rates for dental services is important, money alone won’t solve this problem. One important way to bring dental care to Medicaid patients, he says, is to “expand services provided by mid-level providers known as dental therapists.” Which, as a recent report released by Community Catalyst demonstrates, is exactly what dental therapists in Minnesota and Alaska are doing: increasing the capacity of safety-net providers to treat underserved populations in their communities.

Taken together, these articles and studies bring to mind the old saying, “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a trend.” Dental therapists are catching on.

Someday, the practice of dental therapists in the United States will be the norm – in much the same way that the practice of medical mid-levels such as nurse and physician practitioners is the norm today. Demographic realities and market changes will continue drive this trend. The tipping point for dental therapists will happen sooner rather than later because from a cost and access perspective, we simply can’t afford to wait.

Stay tuned for part II of this post, which will detail how dental costs are driving this issue.

- David Jordan, Dental Access Project Director, Community Catalyst

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Lemons to Lemonade: NM declared dental provider shortage is a job creation opportunity

I see facts and statistics all the time that put New Mexico at the bottom of the national list in health, education and other socioeconomic indicators. There is plenty of work to be done in our state on high school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, children in poverty, and other areas of socioeconomic wellbeing. Oral health is no different.

The number of dental providers in New Mexico is not enough to meet current demand for dental services let alone the additional demand brought about through newly insured New Mexicans under Medicaid Expansion and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a May 2013 report to the state Legislative Finance Committee.

This is not news for many of us working to bring access to dental services to all New Mexicans.  And it’s certainly not news for over 1.31 million New Mexicans, 63% of our population, who according to the report, don’t have access to a dental provider because they live in dental provider shortage areas or underserved areas of our state. 

New Mexico has a choice:

  1. We can either be depressed by the shortage of dental providers and stand frozen in a state of worsening status quo, OR
  2. We can embrace an innovative, evidence-based solution that creates jobs in NM for NM.

The Solution:  Add mid-level dental providers called “Dental Therapists” to NM’s dental team. 

In fact, one of the key findings of the report was the NM Legislature should “revisit the concept of dental therapists as an additional way to provide care to underserved areas under the supervision of dentists…" 

Dental therapists come from underserved communities and return to serve their home communities.  Dental therapists mean: 

  • Careers and livable wage jobs for all NM communities. 
  • Serving the oral health needs of their home community.
  • Keeping money in the community rather community members taking their dollars to other towns and cities.
  • Increased worker and student productivity, fewer school and work days missed because the dental therapist is in town.
  • Job opportunities at NM educational institutions with dental therapy education programs.

This makes sense for our communities. People want dental care; and they want jobs for the next generation. Schools are on board, also: at least four NM education institutions are interested in having dental therapy education programs.  (Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Northern NM College, Eastern NM University – Roswell, and Dona Ana Community College).  They see dental therapists as a viable solution both to serve their community’s oral health needs and to create new work opportunities. We can turn what is currently a sour situation into better care and increased opportunities for New Mexico communities. 

- Pamela

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Mission of Mercy: A Well-Meaning Public Relations Event, Not a Solution to NM Dental Health Crisis


MOM 2012 Line-up
Albuquerque, 2010: Mission Of Mercy line outside of patients waiting to be seen (Source: Only in New Mexico blog)

“Are you in pain?” I asked a young man who was waiting in line to see a dentist at the New Mexico Mission of Mercy (MOM) weekend dental clinic in 2010. 

“Only when I eat,” he answered.

The patient intake form I was filling out for him gave me only two ways to answer the question “Are you in pain?”: “yes” or “no.”  I wasn’t sure which answer to choose. Did the question mean “Are you in pain right now as you are standing here?” or was it the more general “Do you have pain?”  This man clearly needed to eat to live, so even if he is only in pain when he eats, he is in pain in a way that impacts his life in a big way. Right? I marked “yes.” 

As I found in my few hours volunteering at the patient intake station, this man wasn’t the only person who was in pain only when he or she ate. He stood in line with over 2,000 other New Mexicans for the chance to see a dentist, to try to have at least one of their dental problems resolved.  Hundreds camped outside overnight and traveled hundreds of miles for this chance.  Others may not have traveled so far in miles, but because they are Medicaid patients, don’t have insurance coverage, or can’t afford dental services the distance to see a dentist is just as great. 

MOM 2012
Albuquerque, 2010: Mission Of Mercy clinic inside (Source: Only in New Mexico blog)

The MOM is good for generating positive public relations, awareness, and good feelings every year and a half.  But just as the “Are you in pain” question failed to accurately represent this man’s dental condition and the day-to-day realities his pain, the MOM fails to understand the nature of NM’s dental health and access crisis. More importantly, the MOM fails to provide a meaningful long-term solution.   

The MOM is a well-orchestrated event, and the people in line do get to see a dentist. But because it is only a weekend clinic, most people are limited to getting only one of the many dental services they actually need.  Then what happens if these individuals need follow-up care after the weekend is over?  There is nowhere – or in some cases very few places – that these patients can go. They are already so outside the healthcare system, there is no avenue of access to dental services beyond these MOM events. Reportedly, for weeks after the MOM event, safety net clinics like Community Dental Services in Albuquerque received a flood of follow-up calls from MOM patients. They received calls from more patients than they could possibly see. 

Clearly there is a demand for dental services and a shortage of dentists who can provide these services.  Rather than investing in MOM clinics we should invest in a long-term workforce solution that can help meet our dental health and access crisis; adding mid-level dental providers called “dental therapists” to NM’s dental team will strengthen the workforce and increase access for consumers. 

Dental therapists practice in rural, tribal and underserved communities, under the off-site supervision of dentists providing routine and preventative dental services to the community.  With a dental therapist people won’t have to camp out to see a MOM dentist every year and a half, and they won’t have to travel long distances missing school or work.  Most importantly, with the guidance of their dental therapist New Mexicans would be able to prevent the dental decay that leads to extractions, and other serious dental health and overall health problems.

NM has had 3 MOM’s.  The next MOM is in September 2013 in Farmington.  How much longer and how many more MOM’s will New Mexicans have to stand in line for?  Let’s work to make the need for Mission of Mercy events obsolete by bringing the long-term workforce solution of dental therapists to NM.  

- Pamela

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HB 17 wrap-up & next steps

Dental Therapist-Hygienist HB 17 has reached its final destination for 2013, and we are already working on next steps.

Last night the House Business and Industry Committee heard HB 17 for 2 1/2 hours - a good chunk of time, this late in the session. The committee directed that the HB 17 sponsor and representatives meet with the sponsor and representatives of the New Mexico Dental Association (NMDA) dental therapy bill after the session, before the interim committees begin in May. The meetings will help us continue to work for legislation that has a positive impact on the oral health crisis in New Mexico. So while there was no vote in the committee, there was a great discussion that yielded concrete next steps that can be taken.

Earlier this week, HB 17 companion bill SB 567 was tabled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee. The votes were as follows - Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto was not present for the vote. We encourage community members to contact their legislator if they are unsatisfied with a voting decision.

At Health Action NM, we are proud of the progress and advocacy that occurred during the 2013 session. There was a big increase in awareness of the dental care crisis in NM, as well as in the solution that dental therapy can offer. We need to continue this education process and get more people on board, including Gov. Susanna Martinez.

We couldn't have done it without the support of many allies. A big thank you to:

  • Our bill sponsors, Rep. Dennis Roch (R) and Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D).
  • Other state advocacy groups who are also working hard to make dental therapy a reality in their states.
  • The many local dentists and dental hygienists who stood up with us to promote dental therapy as an optimal solution to NM's dental care needs.
  • All of our endorsers, community members, groups, and organizations alike.
  • All those community members who attended the various committee hearings and called their legislators in support of this bill.

Stay in touch with us to hear more about what you can be doing to keep building awareness on this solution to New Mexico's dental care crisis. There is much work to be done!

Word of Mouth