Earlier this summer, Gov. Charlie Baker lent his support to a long-running effort to bring a new class of dental providers to Massachusetts.
The governor included language that added dental therapists in a package of measures aimed at containing the rising costs of MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. Continue reading
In a recent editorial, The Washington Post endorsed the licensing of dental therapists to expand care to millions of Americans who lack it.
“Everyone seems to agree that there is a dental crisis in the United States, particularly among people in poor and rural areas. People who have dental insurance or the means to pay out of pocket can get a high level of care. Those without struggle,” wrote members of the newspaper’s editorial board in the July 14 piece.
In building their case, the Post editors harked back to the 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a child on Maryland’s Medicaid program who died after his abscessed tooth went untreated. (I covered his story when I worked at the Post).
While Maryland has made some progress in getting more dental care to underserved people, including Medicaid patients, the Post editors noted “the situation across the country has not dramatically improved.” Continue reading
From dental therapists working in clinics in rural Alaska and urban Minnesota to hygienists using telehealth technology in California schools, innovative models are showing promise in getting cost-effective dental care to some of the millions of Americans who now lack it, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Today’s report, “Expanding the Dental Team,” examines three nonprofit settings where midlevel dental providers are employed as part of larger dental teams. The paper concludes that the workers have successfully expanded services to previously underserved populations; and that their employment is a cost-efficient method of delivering care.
The report offers case studies of a tribal-owned clinic in Alaska; a federally qualified health center in Minneapolis and a telehealth project operated by the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry at sites in California.
Study researchers conducted site visits, interviewed dental team members, clinic administrators and patients and reviewed practice records for the three programs. They found wide variation among the practices but concluded that all three models allowed nonprofits to stretch their funds while providing increase access to care. Continue reading
The battle over mid-level dental providers has come to Maine and reporters at the Portland Press Herald have been closely covering it.
A bill that would allow dental therapists to practice in the state advanced in the legislature on March 6 but will require additional votes in the house and senate before it reaches the desk of the governor, staff writer Steve Mistler reported.
The legislation had been amended from a previous version to tighten dentists’ supervisory roll over the auxiliaries.
“The amendment, designed to gain the support of Gov. Paul LePage, strengthens portions of the bill to ensure that therapists are directly supervised by licensed dentists,” Mistler explained to readers. Continue reading
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.