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ADA Welcomes New Study on Dental Therapists, but Emphasizes Continued Focus on Eliminating Multiple Barriers to Oral Health

Contact Information:

Rob Raible:  Telephone: 202-789-5166  Email: raibler@ada.org
Richard Green: Telephone: 202-789-5170  Email: greenr@ada.org

The Pew Center on the States’ recent report titled “Expanding the Dental Safety Net: A First Look at How Dental Therapists Can Help” follows up and in some ways reinforces the American Dental Association’s own recent economic studies that bring into question the viability of alternative workforce models. The ADA believes that both reports show that dental therapist models would take large financial commitments while returning questionable results. The Pew report noted that the modeling it examined “found modest effects” from deploying dental therapists in existing, fixed-site federally qualified health centers.

To the extent that workforce additions can help us break down some of the barriers that impede Americans from attaining optimal oral health, allowing non-dentists to perform irreversible surgical procedures is not the way to go. The ADA has developed a curriculum to train Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC). CDHCs are already working in underserved areas providing critical education and preventive services and acting as patient navigators to help people needing restorative care receive that care from fully trained dentists. An evaluation of the CDHC’s impact on meeting the needs of the underserved is currently under way.

The recent Pew report concludes by declaring that “states must work with FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] to identify ways to fill [the] unmet need for dental care.” The ADA agrees and is ahead of the curve in this area. One example of collaboration is the current project of the ADA and the National Association of Community Health Centers to encourage contracting between health centers and private dentists, which benefits the health centers and their patients by promoting efficiency and the quick delivery of care.

The ADA is eager to work with Pew and other organizations on repairing the tattered oral health safety net, but that cooperation requires that all stakeholders have a global understanding of the issues. Breaking down multiple barriers calls for multiple solutions. Oral health disparities are a complex set of problems that must be addressed by incorporating real solutions like Medicaid reforms, universal community water fluoridation, oral health education, and helping people overcome cultural, geographic and language barriers.

The ADA welcomes the recent report by Pew, believing that it adds to the growing literature looking at the viability of dental therapists and other workforce proposals.

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA’s consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.