I recently had the chance to visit with University of Minnesota faculty and tour dental businesses in our neighboring state that are teaching dental therapy and using dental therapists. And to be brief, it’s working! This free market solution to an acute need for increased access to dental access is working!
For a quick background, dental therapy is quite similar to mid-level providers in the hospital world, like a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner. A dental therapist has a learned set of skills that allows them, under the direction of a dentist, to do routine care items like filling cavities, placing temporary crowns or extracting very loose or diseased baby teeth. They bridge the dental care gap between a hygienist and a dentist, making it easier for a dental office to see more patients and allowing the dentist to work on more complicated procedures that generally bring in higher revenue. This is truly a win-win for increasing access to care and improving the bottom-line income for a dentistry business.
While on this visit to Minnesota, I learned and saw that dental therapists are highly trained in classrooms and testing that is done side-by-side with dentistry students. There is no drop off in quality of care or required standards. They simply learn fewer tasks, 50 to 80, instead of the nearly 400 that dentists learn and use. The efforts of a dental therapist can go a long way to improving access for those who need it the most – children, Native Americans, the elderly, and those on Medicaid.
Dental therapy has worked in Alaska for nearly 15 years, and in Minnesota since the early 2010s – it has also been in place as a member of the dental care team in 50+ countries around the world for nearly 100 years! There is plenty of evidence (more than 1,100 studies show dental therapists provide high quality care) to show that dental therapy works and should be an option for enterprising dentists in our state.
I support making dental therapy available for dentists in North Dakota because it addresses a need to increase access through marketplace solutions without government intervention. It works!