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In an effort to make sure that everyone in the U.S. has the dental care they need, some people have proposed expanding the use of dental therapists. These individuals work as part of a dental health team to act as an extension for a dentist. They have been compared to nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other members of the healthcare community who work with doctors to care for patients.
According to an article published by USA Today, the American Dental Association has opposed the use of dental therapists in the place of dentists, because they believe that these individuals should be working under the supervision of a dentist at all times.
Recently, a report released by Community Catalyst examined the economic viability of using dental therapists in the U.S. They discovered that these individuals have been expanding care to children and people who have a low income. This may influence the growing debate over the use of these individuals.
Providing basic care
The researchers set out to examine the work of dental therapists, or midlevel providers, as they are also known, in the two U.S. states where they are currently approved to practice, which are Alaska and Minnesota.
The report found that dental therapists are mostly providing basic preventative services such as sealants. Also, these individuals are rarely performing complex dental procedures. Furthermore, they discovered that dental therapists are mostly providing care to children, low-income adults, Native Americans and others who may struggle to gain access to dental care.
"For the first time we have a real picture of what it means to employ a midlevel dental provider," said researcher Frances Kim, D.D.S., in a statement. "What we are seeing is that midlevel providers are providing mostly preventive care to the most economically challenged patients and are still able to generate enough revenue to ensure that dental practices that employ them can care for the poor."
Looking for solutions
Rather than expand the use of dental therapists, the ADA has called for there to be greater education regarding the importance of dental care, community water fluoridation and insurance reform to help more people gain access to dental care.
Individuals can purchase discount dental plans if they do not have dental insurance, since for a low cost, these plans can help people get the care they need from one of the many dentists who accept these plans in their practices.
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