At its Aug. 7 meeting, the Commission on Dental Accreditation—the accrediting body for academic dental programs—finalized educational standards for dental therapy training. Dental therapists are midlevel providers—similar to physician assistants—who provide preventive and routine restorative care, such as filling cavities.
Approval of the accreditation standards represents a milestone in the expansion of this profession by:
- Promoting consistent levels of training across institutions and of competency among dental therapists nationwide.
- Validating the need for and the science behind dental therapy, and strengthening the justification for authorizing dental therapists.
- Removing the burden on states to develop their own standards for training these providers.
- Providing the legitimacy necessary to encourage academic institutions to launch dental therapy training programs.
- Enabling more students to enter the field of dental therapy because they will be eligible for federal financial aid and more employers will accept their training.
- Recognizing dental therapy training as a mature academic discipline.
- Making it easier for dental therapists to move between states because their credentials will be nationally recognized.
- Reinforcing the safety, quality, and efficacy of dental therapists, as well as the demand for them in this country.
A strong and growing body of research shows that dental therapists provide high-quality, cost-effective care. Expanding the dental team to include dental therapists will go a long way toward helping dentists build their practices and expand access to needed care.
Jane Koppelman is research director for children’s dental policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts.