Authorizing the Employment of Dental Therapists Could Improve Access to Affordable Dental Care

The state of oral health in the U.S. is lacking. In fact, over 35 million Americans don’t have any teeth, while another 178 million people in the United States have lost at least one adult tooth. This sad state of affairs is why the Affordable Care Act aimed to make dental care more accessible, but many Americans still face several roadblocks to getting proper treatment.

According to “Expanding the Dental Team,” a recent report from Pew Charitable Trusts, mid-level oral health practitioners could provide an economical way to make dental care accessible to more people.

The report tells the story of two different organizations that used dental therapists to help people who’d otherwise go without dental care or have to wait long times to book an appointment. These dental therapists provide routine and preventive care for less pay, but also have less training and are only authorized to work in certain states.

The study found that significant numbers of underserved patients were able to receive treatment, while the practices employing these dental therapists were able to continue generating profits. Employing dental therapists also allowed the dentists to focus on their own work — on performing more complex procedures — than on turning a profit, since dental therapists would take care of the routine restorative procedures.

“We believe that dental therapists are going to provide more access to the public,” said Kelli Swanson Jaecks, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. “There’s not enough dentists, obviously, and we really believe in the dental therapy model in Minnesota and Maine. If you have a dental hygienist who becomes a dental therapist, then you have preventive and the restorative care.”

Though the state of oral health care in the U.S. is sad, authorizing the employment of dental therapists could provide a way to make dental care more accessible. The question is whether or not more states will realize this possibility.

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