With more than 61 million people living in areas of the United States designated as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (Dental HPSAs), it’s important to shine a light on an emerging dental care team provider that is helping community health centers expand access to dental care, the dental therapist. Oral Health in America (NIH 2021) provided a comprehensive review of the essential role oral health plays in overall health, the inequities in access to dental care, and the steps that can be taken to provide optimal oral health for all.
An increasing number of states and tribal communities have policies and regulations in place which allow health centers to employ dental therapists. We invite you to participate in our webinar on March 30th from 1:30 – 3:00 ET, where you can learn more about how health centers can include dental therapists on care teams to address health inequities.
Register for March 30th webinar
Q: What is a dental therapist?
A: Dental therapists are primary care dental providers. Some have compared the inclusion of a dental therapist to the dental care team as a parallel to the inclusion of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives to the primary care team. In each instance, the new care team member provides high quality care within their scope of practice, expanding access to needed services. Dental therapists can provide services in health center dental clinics, as well as in community settings, such as schools or nursing homes.
Q: What are the benefits of adding dental therapists to your care team?
A: Dental therapists have been serving underserved at-risk communities and providing access to quality care in over 50 countries for years. In the United States, dental therapists are currently authorized to work in 13 states and tribal nations and working in AK, MN, OR, VT, and WA. Multiple studies demonstrated that within their scope of practice the care provided by dental therapists and dentists are of the same quality. Communities that have expanded care teams to include dental therapists report more access to preventive care services and fewer extractions than residents in areas with no dental therapists.
Q: How can dental therapists support health centers?
A: One of the goals of the people centered health home is to have everyone working at the top of their training and licensure. Dental therapists can provide routine services to more patients and help health centers provide more cost-effective care. Dentists can supervise dental therapists without being physically present, which gives dentists the flexibility and time to work on the more complex procedures. The addition of dental therapists can also help diversify the health center workforce.