More than 16 million children in America go without dental care each year. Millions of additional kids will secure dental insurance by 2014, placing additional pressure on states to ensure that coverage translates into actual care. But who will provide this care?
More than 49 million people lives in areas of the U.S., both urban and rural, that have a shortage of dental providers. A number of states are considering whether to authorize dental therapists or other new types of providers to improve access. These providers can offer some, but not all, of the services currently performed by dentists. One example is the dental health aide therapists (DHATs) who are deployed in Alaska to meet the needs of Alaska Natives living in tribal communities.
A new study released by RTI International finds that the quality of care provided by DHATs is high. The study was commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which provided financial support for Pew's 50-state report, The Cost of Delay. The study by RTI International concluded that:
- • DHATs are providing care safely and effectively in Alaska’s remote areas to people who previously had to wait months or travel hours to receive treatment.
- • DHATs exercise good clinical judgment and provide appropriate care.
- • Patient satisfaction with DHATs is very high.
- • DHATs are working well under the general supervision of dentists.
This study is reinforced by the positive experience of many countries—including Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand—where dental therapists have been deployed successfully for many years to provide care to the underserved.