It Takes a Team: How New Dental Providers Can Benefit Patients and Practices

Dec 06, 2010

Most private-practice dentists who hire new types of dental providers can serve more patients, including Medicaid-enrolled children, while maintaining or improving their financial bottom line. These new providers play a role in the dental field similar to the role of nurse practitioners who work in the medical field.

A new report from the Pew Center on the States, It Takes a Team: How New Dental Providers Can Benefit Patients and Practices, is the first to examine the impact that hiring new types of dental providers—dental therapists and hygienists-therapists—could have on both the productivity and profits of a private dental practice, where more than 90 percent of the nation’s dentists work.  The study also assesses the impact of a third type of provider, dental hygienists, who are currently employed by most dental practices.

The report features an interactive Productivity and Profit Calculator that dentists can use to evaluate the impact of new providers on their individual practices.

Update: After Pew released It Takes a Team, the American Dental Association challenged the report’s conclusions by developing its own economic model, which it circulated widely to the dental community. Pew stands by its conclusions and has responded to the ADA’s findings.

Report (PDF)   |   Calculator (Excel)  |   User manual (PDF)  |   Scenarios (Excel)

Key Findings

It Takes a Team: How New Dental Providers Can Benefit Patients and Practices shows policy makers how new types of providers can help improve dental care access for low income and rural children. The report found that:

  • • In solo private dental practices—where most dentists work—adding new types of providers and dental hygienists produced gains in productivity and increased earnings by a range of 17 to 54 percent.

  • • Dentists who operate a practice by themselves can increase their pre-tax profits by six or seven percent by accepting more Medicaid-enrolled children and hiring either a dental therapist or a hygienist-therapist.

Calculating Costs

To help dentists and policy makers understand the specific impact on their practice or state, Pew commissioned the Productivity and Profit Calculator, an economic tool. Users can insert data from their own dental practice that reflect their costs and market conditions to test the effect of providers with different scopes of service. The calculator is not intended as a business-planning tool to forecast actual profit and loss.

Expanding the Dental Workforce

Currently, most dentists don’t treat young children, and most dental practices don’t accept Medicaid-enrolled children of any age.

But the number of children who secure dental coverage will swell dramatically by 2014, when an additional 5.3 million children gain coverage under the health care reform law.

A number of states are exploring whether to authorize new types of dental providers to deliver care to underserved children. In 2009, Minnesota became the first state to enact such a law. (Read Pew’s brief on the Minnesota law.) And a November 2010 article by the New York Times highlights new research showing the positive effects that dental therapists are having in Alaska.

Media Inquiries

If you are with the media and would like additional information on It Takes a Team, view the press release or contact Matt Jacob, communications manager, The Pew Center on the States, 202.540.6310.

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