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Oral Health Care: A Whole New Language

Course Number: 21

Dental Therapy/Dental Therapist

The dental therapist provides basic preventive and restorative dental services, usually for children and adolescents, in a variety of settings such as private practice, community-based clinics and rural areas. Dental therapists most often work with or in collaboration with dentists to provide community-based preventive health programs to meet identified community needs.5 The precise role varies with the therapist’s education and the state’s dental practice act.

In 2009 Minnesota became the first US state to enact legislation creating the dental therapist. The intent for creating the dental therapist is to help improve access to oral health care and consequently to reduce existing disparities in oral health by providing services previously delivered only by dentists.7 Although Minnesota is the first US state to allow dental therapy practice, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium established the Dental Health Aide Therapist (DHAT) in 2003, the first non-dentist oral health care provider in the United States; however, the DHAT is allowed to provide basic dental care only to Alaska Natives. In October 2010 the Kellogg Foundation announced that an evaluation of the Alaska dental health aide therapists found they provide safe, effective and competent care.8

Dental therapists are currently recognized in the following states and territories: Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.4,9 Additionally, the following states allow dental therapists to practice on Tribal Lands:4,9 Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington. Worldwide, 54 countries and territories recognize dental therapists.10