Dental therapists have been authorized to work in 13 states, where they can help increase access to dental care for underserved communities. But nearly half of those states have yet to complete the lengthy and politically difficult process of issuing rules to license and regulate these providers so they can practice.
To help get those policies in place expeditiously, the National Partnership for Dental Therapy on Jan. 26 released model regulations to guide state policymakers, dental boards, licensing agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders as they engage in rule-making. The publication, known as the Model Dental Therapist Rule and Best Practices Guide, or the Model Rule, will support implementation of dental therapy nationwide and help states overcome a significant barrier to the establishment and growth of the profession. It is good news for the millions of Americans who are denied access to oral health care simply because of where they live, how much money they earn, or whether they are insured.
Research shows that dental therapists deliver high-quality care after being trained in preventive and routine restorative services such as filling cavities and extracting severely diseased or loose teeth. In Alaska alone, more than 40,000 Alaska Native people now have regular access to dental care because dental therapists have been added to dentists’ teams, and that improved access has made an impact. For example, a study in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry showed that residents in Alaska Native communities frequently served by dental therapists had fewer extractions and received more preventive care than residents in areas with no dental therapists. And data from Minnesota demonstrates that clinics that include dental therapists can treat more people and increase revenues.
The Pew Charitable Trusts supported the creation of the Model Rule, which was written by members of the National Model Dental Therapy Rule Panel. That panel included 15 experts with extensive experience in administrative law, dental professions rule-making, tribal law, and dental therapy.
The Model Rule will serve as another valuable component of the state-level infrastructure for dental therapy education, practice, and implementation. It complements the National Dental Therapy Standards Consortium’s 2019 model legislation for authorizing the work of dental therapists, as well as the Commission on Dental Accreditation’s 2015 national dental therapy education standards for U.S. dental therapy programs.
Kristen Mizzi Angelone is the senior manager for and Allison Corr is an officer with Pew’s dental campaign.