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Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, speaks of the benefits of good dental access in support of HB1256, a bill dealing with the issue, during a press conference in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol in Bismarck in January. Bill supporters, in back from left, are Jenna Herman, Christy Jo Fogarty, of the Minnesota Children's Dental Services, Renee Stromme, Rep. Christopher Olson, R-West Fargo, Dianne Billey, Connie Kalanek and Michael Hamilton.

A bill that would allow licensed dental therapists to practice in North Dakota under the supervision of a dentist failed by a 32-59 vote in the state House Wednesday.

House Bill 1256, sponsored by Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley, would allow the North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners to license dental therapists to provide preventive and routine care, such as filling cavities and other duties. Bill proponents said the measure would help alleviate dentist shortages in rural and underserved areas of the state.

“There’s definitely a shortage of dentists or dental providers on the reservation. I’ve talked to people on the reservation in my district, and oftentimes their dental care is the emergency room,” Devlin said. "I’m firmly convinced that this is the solution."

The bill was amended by the House Human Services Committee to require dental therapists work under the supervision of a dentist within the same facility, as well as limit five dental therapists to one facility.

"This would relieve the concerns of corporate dentistry," said Rep. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City.

The bill passed by a 8-6 vote in committee. Some committee members voted "no" because they indicated they wanted to talk with their own dentists, Anderson said.

The North Dakota Dental Association opposed the bill due to concerns over the quality of care provided by dental therapists and because there's a lack of evidence to show how well the model is working in other states.

Dental therapists currently work in Minnesota and Alaska, and legislation has been passed in Maine and Vermont.

Those who criticized the bill were concerned over educational requirements and training of dental therapists.

In 2015, state lawmakers considered a similar measure that would have allowed midlevel dental providers to work in the state. That bill, which also received resistance from the North Dakota Dental Association, failed in the Senate by a 6-40 vote.

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Several lawmakers said they were against the bill, citing concerns over fears expressed by their personal dentists and support of the bill from people living out of state.

“There doesn’t seem to be an outcry for this, other than by the people who either want to educate these therapists or, potentially, to push this new bill into the state," said Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot.

Anderson noted that 72 counties in the state do not have a dentist. Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, then asked how the bill would improve access if dental therapists are required to work under a dentist.

“This isn’t going to actually solve any of (dentists’) problems," Beadle said.

Anderson countered, stating that the Board of Dental Examiners could expand the rule to include "general supervision," which would allow them to work off-site.

Still, some lawmakers rose in opposition of the measure, despite receiving support by a group of 15 organizations, including AARP and the North Dakota Dental Hygienists Association.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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