A few months ago, Oral Health America (OHA), a national non-profit organization on a mission to educate Americans about the importance of oral health, published the second volume in their “State of Decay” report. In the report, the organization analyzed the oral health of older Americans and then compared results state-by-state. Community water fluoridation, edentulism, adult Medicaid benefits, inclusion of older adult strategies in state oral health plans, and dental health professional shortage areas were all considered in the analysis. One of the most startling findings in the report was that more than half of the country was rated at “fair” or “poor” in terms of meeting minimal standards in dental care access for older adults, according to a recent Dental Tribune article. In response, OHA has just issued a recommendation in favor of expanding the oral health services available through dental hygienists and dental therapists.
The organization looked towards the state of Minnesota as a possible model for a solution to the shortage problem. The Land of 10,000 Lakes ranked highest of all states in providing dental care access to older adults. Coincidentally, (or not) they are also the first state in the country to approve the licensing of dental therapists, or mid-level oral health care providers. Individuals with dual licenses as both dental hygienist and Advanced Dental Therapist are capable of performing standard dental procedures, such as filling cavities and extracting teeth. Policymakers in Washington, Maine, and other states are looking at this progressive program as a potential solution to the access problems in their states, particularly for the poor and uninsured. American Dental Hygienists’ Association President, Denise Bowers, RDH, Phd., believes that patients will benefit from a provider who can “deliver both the preventive scope of dental hygienist and the focused restorative scope of an advanced dental therapist,” opening the doors of access for millions of Americans. There is also a strong opposition to the use of dental therapists in the field by professionals who feel extensive education and training is required to uphold the integrity and safety of their profession. For more information on the tumultuous debate, check out my previous blog on the topic.