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Dental Therapists and the Dentist Shortage

Jan 08, 2019

By Dean George

A few days after Santa Claus had come and gone one state governor presented his state’s residents with a gift of his own.

On Dec 27, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a Senate bill into law authorizing dental therapists to perform a variety of routine procedures for patients usually reserved for dentists.

“Dental therapists will be a unique tool to target the currently underserved populations in our state,” Gov. Snyder said in a press release.

In case you missed it, America has a limited number of dentists available to serve a growing number of patients in need of their services.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than 5,000 localities, or 55 million Americans, lack adequate access to dental services. KFF defines “adequate access” as fewer than a single dentist for every 5,000 residents.

Put another way, there are fewer than 200,000 dentists to serve 325.7 million inhabitants of America.

Michigan became the eighth state in the country authorizing dental therapists to provide routine dental care, and The Pew Charitable Trusts reports at least a dozen other states are considering allowing dental therapists to help bridge the dental shortage.

The use of dental surrogates in underserved areas isn’t new.  Minnesota was the first state to authorize mid-level dental care providers almost 10 years ago.

Since that time Minnesota has reported that more uninsured patients and those on public assistance have received dental care treatment, and all dental patients have experienced shorter waiting times to get an appointment. Minnesota patients are also enjoying more face time during dental visits.

In fact, a 2016 University of Minnesota study reported that 90 percent of therapists in that state treated up to 90 percent of uninsured patients or those on public assistance.

Both dental therapists and dentists are trained to work on the teeth and gums, but dentists have earned the equivalent of a doctoral degree whereas dental therapists have earned either a two-year certificate or a master’s degree, depending upon the state where they practice.

Dental therapists often focus on diagnosing affected areas needing treatment and performing basic procedures such as filling teeth and removing plaque and tartar. Dentists do more of the major procedures such as root canals, surgical procedures and removing diseased tissue.

Proponents of the recently signed Michigan law claim that employing dental therapists will provide benefits both publicly and to dentists themselves.

“This bill will ensure an improvement in overall access to oral health care for underserved patients, while allowing dentists the chance to expand their practices,” said Senator Mike Shirkey, Clarklake, Michigan.

“Creating dental therapists is a solution from both a public health and fiscal perspective,” said Shirkey.

Photo source: Dentistry Today, Michigan Radio

Copyright 2019, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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