Politico: 'Dental Therapists' Spark Debate
Some state lawmakers think they've found the solution to the nation's severe dental care access problem, but so far, only two states are using the touted "dental therapists" — and dentists aren’t thrilled about the idea.
According to the Pew Center on the States, more than 40 million Americans reside in areas with a shortage of dentists. And individuals without dental health access often end up in the emergency room, which is more expensive for everyone.
Advocacy groups and some state legislators think an alternative type of dental provider, often called a dental therapist, can fill the void. Dental therapists don’t receive as much training as a dentist. But they can perform some of the same basic services — such as pulling teeth and filling cavities — under the supervision of a dentist.
“The bottom line is that it will cost a state significantly less to hire dental therapists to provide basic restorative care to the underserved,” said Julie Stitzel, manager for the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign.
Alaska uses the therapists as part of its Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Minnesota is the only state to have passed a law licensing them. But many state legislatures — including those in Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont and Washington — are already considering or planning to consider bills to license dental therapists this year.
The bills often have bipartisan support, but passage isn’t a sure bet. In part, that’s because it takes years to shore up public support for a new type of provider and to build training programs to support them.
And there’s one other big challenge: The American Dental Association is staunchly opposed to dental therapists.
“The No. 1 obstacle has been organized dentistry,” Pew’s Stitzel said.
Read the full story at politico.com.