Dental Therapists Role in the Changing World of Dentistry
Dental therapists are professional advanced practice providers, who are similar to medical practitioners (like paramedics and physician assistants) who have specialized training in a limited area of practice. They are required to practice under a dentist’s supervision.
They drill cavities and fill them, conduct basic extractions, and perform other much-needed routine services. They are a lot less expensive to hire and train and have fewer needs and financial reward expectations compared to dentists.
Introducing dental therapists into the profession offers a free-market approach to improve the delivery of oral healthcare cost-effectively and safely. This paradigm expands the capability or larger clinics and small practices to provide dental care in a more profitable and efficient way and potentially enables clinics and dentists to accept private fees, insurance, and Medicaid that they would not otherwise see as practical or sufficient.
A Majority of Dentists are Small Practice Owners
Along with their substantial educational debt, they also have high costs of constructing and maintaining their dental offices. The more an owner can amortize those expenses over greater use, the more profitable their business will be.
When dental therapists are added to their staff is allows for increased office utilization without increasing the owner dentist’s workload and improved access to dental care for the public with limited increases in marginal costs.
Quite often, publicly funded clinics have a hard time finding dentists to staff their facilities, who out of necessity, need to earn a high enough salary to repay their massive educational debt and earn a fair wage for the skilled services they provide. It is less expensive to incentivize dental therapists to work in private offices and clinics in underserved areas.
There is increased personal and professional satisfaction when practitioners have the ability to perform at the height of their profession. When dental therapists are hired it provides dentists with more opportunities to focus on more complex (and potentially more profitable) procedures, while at the same time reduce their costs for providing basic services to their patients.
The medical profession strongly supports the benefits and safety of non-physician advanced practice providers providing service in all settings, and they frequently perform technically demanding, dangerous, and invasive procedures. It has made it possible for the public to have access to high-quality medical care and keep costs down at the same time and increase the ability of physicians to practice more profitably and efficiently.
Dental Therapists bring cost-effective and safe dental care to more remote areas where there are no dentists nearby
Substantial data from other developed countries of nearly 100 years of experience, in addition to 10 years in Minnesota and 15 in Alaska, confirms the safety and proficiency of dental therapists. Their patients receive affordable, quality dental care they might otherwise not be able to afford or obtain.
Private and public organizations across the political spectrum strongly support dental therapist licensing. The only notable opponents are mainly dental organization leaders, who frequently testify against therapist licensing at state legislative hearing, but offer no rational justification for this position.
Dental association leaders erroneously claim that dentists are the only ones who are capable of safely and adequately performing irreversible procedures. This is contrary to the substantial body of published evidence that refutes that argument. Another claim they make is that introducing dental therapists into the profession will not help to improve access to affordable dental care.
The purpose of licensing requirements should be for the public’s benefit, not for curtailing new care paradigms
Even if they were correct about the historical evidence, why should the freedom of choice of the public and profession be abridged? It would not force anyone to obtain services or hire non-dentists. However, patients, clinic owners, and dentists should be able to use dental therapists if they want to.
Now is the time for the dental profession to follow the medical profession’s example and support the licensing of advanced practice providers in order to lower costs, improve access to dental care, increase productivity, as well as improve public and professional satisfaction.
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