Oral health is an important part of staying healthy. But today Americans are having trouble accessing the dentist. Not only is there a shortage of dentists and dental equipment and supplies but the cost of dental insurance is often too high.
Many dentists won't treat Medicaid patients and reimbursement rates in the federal-state program are extremely low.
Now a new type of dental practioner might be available for patients. Dental therapists. Dental therapists are limited practitioners who are trained to do "basic" dental work, including X-rays, preventative care, filings and extractions. In the countries where they practice today, most of them are carefully supervised by fully licensed and trained dentists.
Are dental therapists in your future? Some states are planning to regulate dental therapy, but the American Dental Association actually disagrees.
A recent study lead by Dr. David Nash, a pediatric dentist and the William R.Willard professor of dental education at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, showed that dental therapists could benefit people in areas where there is a shortage of dentists. Dr. Nash said the study was "absolutely unprecedented" and should "put to rest once and for all" the controversy over whether dental therapists are a safe and effective way to provide basic dental care for people in areas where there is a shortage of dentists."
Dental therapists were introduced in 2005 in Alaska. Isolated villages accessible only by air were serviced by dental therapists. These communities had no dentist or dental care available until dental therapists. In Minnesota a handful of people have been trained as dental therapists and began treating people in under-served areas several months ago. Five other states are currently considering legislation to provide for dental therapists.
In recent years, studies conducted by the federal government and some private foundations have determined that nearly 40 percent of the American population doesn't see a dentist at least once a year. There are hundreds of pockets across the country where there aren't enough dentists to serve the number of people who live there. Despite Dr. Nash's study the ADA is not convinced that more dental therapists will help.
The American Dental Association states, "Training more people to X-ray, file, and pull teeth doesn't cut to the heart of the issue." "America's dental crisis will only be reversed through more structural changes," a statement said, including community water fluoridation; first dental visits by age one; oral health education, assessments and sealant programs in schools; better integration with the medical community; and "realistic funding of care for those in greatest need."
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