Opinion: A shortage of dental professionals plagues Florida. Lawmakers in Tallahassee can change that

Legislation this year would allow dentists who come from out of state and meet certain requirements more flexibility to provide critical services, Dr. Michael Badger writes.

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Legislation in the Florida Legislature this session would help address dental workforce issues. It would expand access to critical dental care by providing more flexibility for dental workers to relocate to Florida and offer their services to residents. It is imperative that this piece of legislation move forward. 

As a dentist serving the Orlando area, I see the impact of poor oral health up close and personal every day. According to the Florida Department of Health, nearly 66% of adults visited a dental clinic and almost 46% had permanent teeth removed because of gum disease. That was in 2018, the most recent year data is available. Compounding the situation in our state is the fact that too many Floridians struggle to get critical dental care in the first place.

That's due to a variety of factors, but one of the most significant is an ongoing and worsening shortage of dental professionals in the state. Dental practices simply cannot find enough dentists and dental hygienists to hire and meet their patients' needs.

Currently, state law discourages dental professionals – both dentists and hygienists – who received their license in other states from moving to and offering their dental services in Florida. That’s because dental licensure is state-driven, meaning each state determines its own dental licensing requirements. For those who want to practice in another state, they often encounter significant financial burdens because of the cost and time it takes to get a new license. 

This year's legislation (SB 1364/HB 1333) would fix that by giving dentists who meet certain requirements more flexibility to provide critical services without geographic restrictions.

Importantly, this type of license portability isn’t automatic – there are still checks and balances. For example, dental professionals would still have to go through a rigorous application process, must not have any disciplinary action taken against them, must be in good standing with their issuing license board and must undergo background checks.

But what it does do is provide an expedited pathway to broader work opportunities for those already licensed. And that would translate to expanded access and improved oral health care for Floridians across our great state. 

As a dentist, I’ve dedicated my life and professional career to helping my patients take control of their oral – and therefore, their overall – health. And caring for those patients who have struggled with pain or other dental issues, playing a role in restoring their oral health – and transforming their lives in the process – is a privilege I don’t take for granted. 

With the passage of this commonsense legislation, every Floridian who is struggling to access care, or to overcome dental health challenges, will be one step closer. I urge our lawmakers in Tallahassee to quickly approve this legislation and help improve the oral health of millions of Floridians.

Dr. Michael Badger is a practicing dentist, with offices in Orlando and Davenport. Views expressed are those of the author and not of the City & State Florida editorial staff.

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