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Dental Therapists


The Problem

New Mexico has an oral health crisis. Almost 900,000 New Mexicans live in areas without enough dentists and over a quarter of elementary school children have untreated tooth decay. Everyone deserves quality, affordable dental care in their community and nobody should have to live in pain. Too many New Mexicans lack access to dental care, but dental therapists can help.

The Solution

By allowing dental therapists to practice under the supervision of dentists, New Mexico can create well-paying jobs for its communities, as well as meeting important oral health needs. Dental therapists can be trained in local colleges, providing opportunities for a local high school graduate to attain a specialized degree and a well-paying job while also allowing them to live and work in their own community

Dental therapists are currently working or are authorized to work in Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington State, and Vermont. At least ten more states are currently working on legislation. Over the last fifteen years that dental therapists have been practicing in the United States, they have established themselves as an essential part of the dental team, helping to deliver care for those that need it most and creating much-needed jobs. Where employed, dental therapists are:

  • Reducing wait times for appointments and travel times for people in rural areas
  • Improving patient outcomes by reducing the need for more costly treatment, tooth extractions, and the use of general anesthesia
  • Creating much needed professional wage job opportunities in local communities

How it Works

Dental therapists are highly-trained dental professionals who work as part of the dental team to provide routine and preventive care in a role similar to that of a physician assistant in medicine. The care and services they provide complement a dentist and dental hygienist, increasing the productivity and reach of the full dental care team. Dental therapy education programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the same body that approves training programs for dentists. Employing dental therapists gives dentists the ability to expand the reach of their practice, whether by expanding their office hours, creating a remote office in an under-served area, or by offering dental therapists' services in community settings like schools and nursing homes. Dental therapists are trained to provide many of the most frequently needed procedures including filling routine cavities—helping care for communities most in need.

By allowing dental therapists to practice under the supervision of dentists, New Mexico can create well-paying jobs for its communities, as well as meeting important oral health needs. Dental therapists can be trained in local colleges, providing opportunities for a local high school graduate to attain a specialized degree and a well-paying job while also allowing them to live and work in their own community. Conservative estimates indicate the average dental therapist in New Mexico will make a starting annual salary of $60,000.

Policy Status

We are currently in the implementation phase of this policy, which will involve a large community effort. For updates and opportunities to get involved, please email

Dental Therapy Across the Nation


Source: Jane Koppelman, PEW Charitable Trusts

News and Resources



March 29, 2019 




CONTACT: Sharon Kayne, Communications Director, NM Voices for Children

505-361-1288 (direct), 505-401-8709 (c),

OR: Marie-Pier Frigon, Communications Assistant,


Governor Signs Game-Changing Dental Therapy Bill into Law

Creates a New Career Path for New Mexicans and Better Access to Oral Health Care

SANTA FE, NM – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed HB 308 into law making New Mexico the eighth state to allowdental therapists to practice in some or all settings. (While Alaska also has dental therapists, the statute there was enacted under federal and tribal law.) The legislation, carried by lead sponsor Rep. Doreen Gallegos (D-District 52) and Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-District 49) in the House and sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr. (D-District 22) in the Senate, had overwhelming support in both chambers. 

“We are grateful to the Legislature and the governor for making dental therapists a reality in New Mexico,” said James Jimenez, executive director on New Mexico Voices for Children. “This law not only creates a new career path for New Mexicans, but it also helps to address a critical need in many of our communities – better access to oral health care. This will be a game-changer.”

Most of the bill becomes effective on June 14, 2019. One of the next steps will be for New Mexico colleges and universities to develop and begin offering the degree program. Several schools have expressed interest in adding the degree to their current dental programs.

Nearly 900,000 New Mexicans live in areas without enough dentists, with the burden falling heavily on rural, tribal, and low-income communities. More than 25 percent of elementary-aged children in New Mexico have untreated tooth decay, which impacts their ability to succeed in school and live healthy lives.

Dental therapists are licensed dental practitioners who work as part of dentist-led teams to expand access to care. Similar to the way a physician’s assistant contributes to a medical team, dental therapists offer routine and preventive care, and complement the work of dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants, increasing the productivity and reach of the dental care team.

The new law authorizes dental therapists to practice in New Mexico, as they do in a number of other states including neighboring Arizona, which passed legislation just last year. It also outlines that dental therapists will be able to provide preventive and routine restorative care, offering the most commonly needed services like exams and fillings to underserved patients.

It also ensures that Tribes are able to exercise their sovereign right to create policies that best serve the needs of their communities. Tribal leaders initially brought dental therapy to the U.S. because it met a crucial need, and while dental therapists have spread beyond Indian Country, Tribes continue to lead the way on implementing this innovative solution.


The NM Dental Therapist Coalition is a statewide group that includes tribal leaders, dentists, service organizations, oral health providers, nonprofits, local governments, and educational entities, among many others. More information on the dental therapy effort in New Mexico, as well as a full list of the New MexicoDental Therapist Coalition’s extensive membership, is available online at

About the New Mexico Dental Therapist Coalition

Our coalition is working to end the oral health care crisis in New Mexico by supporting the addition of dental therapists to the dental team.  Our members include:

NM State Legislative Health & Human Services Committee – Endorsed dental therapist legislation (Nov ’12, Dec’13, July’14). and Indian Affairs Cmte. (Sept’14)

AARP New Mexico

Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board (AAIHB)

Alta Mira Family Services, Inc.

Americans for Indian Opportunity

Center for Civic Policy

Center for Native American Youth

Centro Sávila

Community Dental Services, Inc. - ABQ

Concilio CDS, Inc. – Las Cruces

Dental Care in Your Home, Inc.

Des Moines School Health Advisory Council

Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council

Elev8 NM

El Pueblo Health Services - Bernalillo

Family Promise of ABQ Interfaith Worker Justice

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of New Mexico

Native American Professional Parent Resources, Inc. (NAPPR)

Native Health Initiative

Navajo Nation – wants dental therapists in their community

Nizhoni Smiles Dental Clinic – Shiprock

Northern New Mexico College – Española

NM Alliance for Retired Americans

NM Alliance for School- Based Health Care

NM American Federation of Teachers Retirees

NM Center on Law & Poverty

NM Conference of Churches

NM Dental Hygienists’ Association

NM Health Resources

NM Intertribal Community Services Council (NMITCC)

NM League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

NM Public Health Association (NMPHA) (2011,’13,’14,’15)

NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

NM Telehealth Alliance NM Voices for Children OLE NM

Pew Foundation

Place Matters

Pueblo of Kewa/Santo Domingo Health Board -

wants dental therapists in their community.

Pueblo of Tesuque RESULTS - Santa Fe

Rio Arriba Community Health Council

Rio Arriba County Health & Human Services

Santa Fe Community College

Southwest Women’s Law Center

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI)

Ten Southern Pueblo Governors Association

Tierra del Sol – Las Cruces

Union County Network wants dental therapists in their community – Clayton

Union County General Hospital

Union County Health Alliance

Women’s Intercultural Center – Anthony

YDI-Elev8 (Youth Devlp. Inc.)

William H. Johnson, Jr., Fmr. NM Cabinet Secretary for Human Services Dept.

Alfredo Vigil, MD FAAP, Fmr. NM Cabinet Secretary for Health & Human Services – Taos

Ronald J. Romero, DDS, Fmr. NM Dept. of Health Dental Director, Private practice dentist – Santa Fe DezBaa Damon-Mallette DMD – Aztec, ABQ

Davis Gauntt, DDS –NM Smiles mobile dental clinic

Bob Giannini, DDS – Fmr. NM Dental Board Chair, ABQ

Howard Rhoads, DDS – Artesia

Roger Ames, DDS – Mora

Bill Niendorff, DDS - ABQ

Patricio Larragoite, DDS – Cochiti, Santa Fe

Harris Silver, MD

William H. Wiese, MD, MPH, Ret. UNM faculty; Fmr. NM DOH Public Health Division Director