As a Shortage of Dental Care Professionals Continues in the U.S., Patients Look to Dental Therapists

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From Minnesota to California, state and local governments have begun considering changes to laws governing dental healthcare that would allow dental therapists to perform regular check-ups, fill-in patient cavities, and much more. The cause? Just as specialization led to a shortfall in primary care providers in the world of medicine, now the same sort of stratification is leaving general dentists overbooked and patients waiting for weeks or months at a time to have their needs met.

The push toward dental therapists is seen as completely sensible by lawmakers and patients alike. After all, like their physicians assistant counterparts in medical practices across the country, dental therapists have to seek out a master’s degree that takes anywhere from 28 months of full-time study to four years to complete. In other words, these aren’t unskilled men and women who are looking to fill in the care gaps in the dental industry. Even so, like their analogs in medicine, many with their doctorates aren’t too thrilled about the proposed changes in their states.

While Criticism is Expected, Americans Need All the Help They Can Get
Regardless of the controversy stirred up within the community of dental professionals, the fact is that Americans need more sources of reliable dental care. Dental medicine and its practitioners have come a long way, meaning the potential for improving health has grown significantly. Prosthodontists, for example, train for several more years than their general dentist counterparts, learning the special skills they need to correct misaligned and damaged teeth. This school of dentistry and the many others have heralded in a new era of dental cosmetics and health for all patients. Of course, none of that matters if patients don’t have access to the care they need.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Health Research, 92% of American adults have had at least one cavity. In other words, Americans need all the help they can get to keep their teeth clean and healthy. The most sensible approach is to allow dental therapists to practice in the same way physicians assistants practice. Powers should be granted commensurate with their schooling and experience, but the specialist work, whether for prosthodontists or maxillofacial surgeons, should be left to those with “doctor” before their names. In the end, this will lead to patients getting what they need, and that, after all, is the point.

Would you be okay with seeing a dental therapist for the standard parts of your dental care? Let us know in the comments below!

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