Community Health Centers are a key component of the nation’s health safety net, providing essential primary and preventive care in underserved communities across the United States. Today, over 1,400 health center organizations provide care to 31.5 million patients at 14,000 delivery sites nationwide. A core element of health centers’ work is providing meaningful access to dental care for their patients, which is why NACHC is pleased to provide this Resource Guide with an overview of the important and impactful role dental therapists play in expanding the reach of the health center dental care team. Dental therapists are now working in five states (AK, ME, MN, OR, and WA).
Health centers are federally funded or federally supported nonprofit, community-directed provider clinics serving as the health home for 1 in 5 Medicaid beneficiaries and 1 in 3 people living in poverty. It is the collective mission and mandate of the 1,400 health center organizations around the country to provide access to high-quality, cost-effective primary and preventative medical care, as well as dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, and other support services that facilitate access to care to people located in medically underserved areas.
Similar to the inclusion of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives on medical care teams, a dental therapist is a dental care team provider who works under the supervision of a dentist. Dental therapists are trained to provide preventive and routine restorative care, which includes filling cavities, placing temporary crowns, and some tooth extractions. The addition of dental therapists to dental care teams allows health centers to expand quality care to more patients and provide treatment to more underserved, at-risk populations. Dental therapists can work in traditional dental offices and clinics or in community settings, such as schools or nursing homes.