For decades, millions of Americans—many of them low-income—have been receiving inadequate oral health care. Many dentists do not accept Medicaid, and millions of people live in areas with a shortage of dentists. It’s a system the Institute of Medicine describes as riddled with barriers. Some states are exploring innovative ways of expanding dental care to reach traditionally underserved populations, including authorizing midlevel dental providers.
Midlevel dental providers perform preventive care and routine restorative duties, such as filling cavities, in a variety of settings. Often called dental therapists, they already work as part of the dental team in Alaska, Minnesota, and more than 50 countries. In addition, Maine authorized them in 2014.
Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, examines the role of the midlevel provider from a free market perspective. He discusses how current regulations may impede access to dental care and how incorporating these providers would allow dental practices to provide a fuller range of services and improve access to care.