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The recent study published by the American Dental Association in the Jan. 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, reinforces what numerous studies have shown previously: that dental therapists provide safe, quality care on par with dentists for the procedures they are trained to perform.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has long championed adding dental therapists to the dental team as a way to expand access to dental care. We are pleased that the ADA identified the following positive outcomes associated with adding mid-level providers to the dental team:
- There was no difference in tooth decay and/or cavities’ increment and severity between groups treated by teams that included mid-level dental providers and groups where only dentists provided procedures such as fillings or non-surgical extractions.
- Groups who received dental treatments such as fillings or extractions by teams that included mid-level providers, saw a decrease over time in untreated tooth decay and/or cavities.
- In groups who received fillings, non-surgical extractions or similar procedures from teams that included mid-level providers, there was a decrease in untreated tooth decay and/or cavities compared to those who received treatment from dentists only.
Millions of Americans do not have access to dental care, and among those, children and the underserved have the least access. A recent literature review of more than 1,100 studies across multiple nations, demonstrates the quality of care provided by dental therapists. We have also seen it in practice here in the U.S. For example, in Alaska, dental therapists have been able to provide quality care to 35,000 people who previously had no opportunity for dental care. In Minnesota, one practice has been able to save $1,200 a week by adding a dental therapist to the team. That therapist cared for 1,000 people in the first year alone.
Dental therapists are demonstrating that they are an effective solution to a community’s need to expand access to critical dental care. More than 20 states are investigating the option and that is a positive step. We don’t need further study as to the quality of care provided by dental therapists.
Continuing to call for studies is a well-worn technique for slowing progress. In this case, the answer to providing access to needed dental care for vulnerable children and their communities is not to create additional reams of identical data, the answer is to move forward with implementation of a dental therapist model as part of the dental team structure.