AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers have endorsed a bill to allow a new category of dental hygienists to work in the state with the aim of expanding access to affordable dental care.

In a 101-39 vote Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled Legislature gave initial approval to the bill establishing a new license for dental hygiene therapists, which can do procedures like filling cavities and pulling teeth.

The bill was introduced last year and carried over to the new session. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.

Supporters say Maine has a shortage of dentists, which means many residents in rural areas often go without proper dental care.

But critics say the problem is the inability of people to show up at appointments, not a lack of access.