North Dakotans for Dental Access
North Dakotans for Dental Access News

1 in 6 Dentists statewide are interested in hiring dental therapists

According to preliminary survey results from UND Center of Health, 1 in 4 rural dentists, and 1 in 6 dentists statewide, are interested in hiring dental therapists. Click here to read more.


Dental Therapist fact of the day malpractice.jpg

Some argue that a dental therapist won’t provide quality care… 

FACT: Over 1,100 studies show dental therapists provide high quality care, and actuaries set malpractice insurance rates in Minnesota at just $93/year because their number crunching demonstrates dental therapists are safe.

Dentists have a choice in how to supervise a dental therapist

With HB 1256’s recent amendments, the supervision of dental therapists by dentists would be limited to direct and indirect supervision. This means that the dental therapist would have to be in the same facility as the dentist. However, the ND Board of Dental Examiners would be allowed to develop rules for general/offsite supervision (similar to rules already in place for supervising dental hygienists). A quick fact sheet on the differences can be found at, or by clicking here.


How dental therapists can serve vets and seniors in our state

In North Dakota, 1 in 3 seniors report having dental problems and are “far more likely than any other age group” to do so. According to the UND Center for Rural Health, in 2016 one in three seniors in a nursing home who still have teeth need urgent care and 32 percent have experienced total tooth loss. Among those who experienced total tooth loss, 62% were Medicaid enrollees. Access to dental care remains one of the greatest challenges facing older adults in North Dakota. 

In Minnesota, dental therapists like Heather Luebben are working with their supervising dentists to help nursing home residents get the care they need.

Do you work in any other locations besides the Minnesota veteran’s nursing home?
I also work at an adult disability center and an Apple Tree Clinic in the Twin Cities. The veterans nursing facility is run by the state.

What is your background?
I started my career as a collaborative practice hygienist where I saw first-hand how so many people struggle to get dental care. After Minnesota passed a bill allowing for licensing of dental therapists, I saw an opportunity to do more by furthering my education and training.

What is the need for care like at the veterans nursing home?
The need for dental care at the nursing home is just enormous. Almost every patient has experienced high rates of tooth decay. Part of the reason for this is that can be difficult for staff to assist with daily mouth care, particularly for people with dementia who can be very resistant when staff try to help brush their teeth. Because behavioral challenges are so common, some nursing home staff have told me that they would rather help “toilet” someone than help brush their teeth.
Usually, I have two dental assistants on my team when I’m at the veterans nursing home. When we encounter a patient with dementia who is resistant to care, one of the dental assistants will often hold the patient’s hand and we use behavioral techniques to keep the patient calm, and safely provide the care they need.

What’s your workday at the nursing home like? How do you work with your supervising dentist?
Both my supervising dentist and I serve the veteran’s home on a weekly basis, but not necessarily on the same day of the week.*  As part of our collaborative agreement, she does new patient exams, but I can also start some treatments with a limited exam as long as it is within my scope of practice. I generally see anywhere between 8-12 patients a day, and most of them need restorative work like filling cavities.
*Note that under HB 1256 as amended, the supervising dentist would need to be in the same facility as the dental therapist unless the board approves rules for general/offsite supervision.

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