New resources explain role of dental therapists

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Dental therapists have the potential to expand access to oral health care, though opponents (such as the American Dental Association) argue that only dentists should perform surgical procedures such as restorations and extractions.

The rules around what dental therapists can do depend on the state. Minnesota authorized the licensing of dental therapists in 2009. But dental health aide therapists started providing care in Alaskan villages in 2005. Working under the general supervision of dentists, DHATS provide access to care to more than 40,000 Alaska Natives, many of them living in remote and isolated areas.

We’ve updated the oral health core topic area with more information about dental therapists.

There are new entries in the glossary, key concepts section and some data that looks at New Zealand’s use of dental therapists, where they’ve been practicing since 1921, and explores use of the model in the United States.

It’s worth seeing what the rules are in your state and whether there is a movement to allow dental therapists to provide more care. Check and see if there are “Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas” near you and talk to health professionals about whether dental therapists might improve access to care.

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