Dental Therapy/Dental Therapists

Dental therapists provide basic dental treatment and preventive dental services in a variety of settings. Dental therapists most often work with or in collaboration with dentists to provide community-based preventive health programs to meet identified community needs.2

Worldwide there are at least fifty-four countries currently utilizing dental therapists, including more than 282 employed dental therapists in Canada, primarily in Saskatchewan, but also working in federal facilities, Provincial, Territories, First Nations, National School of Dental Therapy, and private practice.3

In 2009 Minnesota became the first US state to enact legislation creating a new dental team member, the dental therapist. The intent for the creating the dental therapist is to help improve access to oral healthcare and consequently to reduce existing disparities in oral health by providing services previously delivered only by dentists, such as restorations.3 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 healthcare 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 therapists found they provide safe, effective and competent care.5 Currently many other states have either created or proposed legislation to create a dental therapist position and licensure pathway. In addition there are presently other states investigating dental therapy and other workforce models in an effort to improve access to oral healthcare. In August 2015 the Commission on Dental Accreditation determined that the accreditation process for midlevel dental providers could begin. With an accreditation process now in place, it is expected that additional states may be more likely to pursue dental therapists as an option for oral healthcare. According to the American Dental Association Statement on Accrediting Dental Therapy Education Programs (also August 2015) continues to promote that only dentists should be allowed to diagnose dental disease and perform surgical and irreversible procedures.