Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota Dental Therapy Model Goes Nationwide
Christy Fogarty was certified Feb. 15 as the state’s first advanced dental therapist, which is reason to cheer unless you’re 7-year-old Tia Seaberry.
Tia, wearing pink sequined boots and bluejeans on a recent Wednesday morning, will be forgiven for dampened enthusiasm as Fogarty prepared to extract an infected baby tooth at Children’s Dental Services in Minneapolis. The procedure wouldn’t have been any more welcome had Justin Bieber been doing it.
“Are you nervous?” Fogarty asked, rubbing numbing jelly on Tia’s gums. “It’s normal. I’m going to tell you everything. I’m going to put a little bit of sleepy juice up there. Is it making your tongue feel funny? Good. We like it to do that.”
Fogarty’s professionalism and soothing presence are coming in handy on another front. In February, she testified in front of the New Hampshire Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee. New Hampshire, as well as nearby Maine and Vermont, are among nearly two dozen states looking to Minnesota for guidance in creating their own brand of dental therapists.
These midlevel professionals span the divide between the hygienist and the dentist, much like a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, both of whom met equally vocal pushback from the medical establishment.
“Minnesota is definitely a pioneer and constantly referenced in other states,” said Julie Stitzel, campaign manager for the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign, whose mission is to increase dental access to low-income children.
“We can actually use data from Minnesota,” she said, “instead of theoretical models suggesting what we think will happen. Now we can say, ‘This is what we know will happen.’ ”
Fogarty’s approach is effective. “She dispels misinformation,” said Stitzel, of Pew. “She tells them, ‘Ask me any question you want.’ ”
Dental therapists work under a dentist’s supervision and are trained to do such things as fill cavities, place crowns, give local anesthesia and, in some cases, pull teeth.
After logging the required 2,000 hours of clinical experience, Fogarty’s advanced status allows her to work without on-site supervision, giving her flexibility to practice in such places as nursing homes, Head Start clinics, homeless shelters or emergency rooms. She also can do more complex procedures, such as removing adult teeth. But her heart belongs with children.