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Tips for covering efforts to establish licensing for dental therapists Date: 01/06/15

Rosalie Rayburn

By Mary Otto

A bill in New Mexico would establish a licensing and practicing framework for midlevel oral health providers in that state. Rosalie Rayburn has been covering the efforts for the Albuquerque Journal. In this Q&A, she shares some insights into how this story is unfolding and some key information that other reporters should keep in mind.

How did you get started on this topic?

I recently took over the health care beat after several years of covering local government. I heard a source mention the controversy around the dental therapist issue when I was researching a piece about the effect of New Mexico's Medicaid expansion on a state that already had a chronic shortage of medical providers. I then noticed the Albuquerque Journal published a couple of letters, one in favor of dental therapists, one against.

How you have kept it balanced?

I talked with the author of one of the letters; a dentist who is opposed to establishing a licensing procedure for dental therapists to work in New Mexico. I also talked with a nonprofit organization Health Action New Mexico which strongly supports the concept of dental therapists. I also drew on previous articles about charity events held to provide dental care to give an idea of the level of need.

When do you plan to write about this debate again?

I will probably write about it again, reporting whether the bill that proposes establishing the licensing procedure for dental therapists passes or fails in the legislature.

Do you have a few words of wisdom for other reporters who might find themselves covering this topic in their own communities?

It's worth finding out what the dental care reimbursement rates are from private insurers versus Medicaid. The need for dental therapists may depend on the population, geography, demographics, poverty levels of a state and whether there is a dental school in the state. New Mexico does not have a dental school.

Rosalie Rayburn (@ElizabethRaybu2) is a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal.