Workforce Principles

Most reports suggest the current dental care delivery system in the United States is not effectively ensuring optimal oral health for all populations. Pluralism refers to the way of organizing and providing health care services because of the diversity of values, populations, and entities involved.21 Such pluralism is depicted in the dental care delivery system, which is a mixture of organizations, practitioners, financing mechanisms, and approaches to dental care. Currently, there are several dental workers who provide dental care or supportive services in the US (Table 2).

Table 2. Dental Provider Workforce General Scope of Work.

Dental Provider Provider Description States Provider Practices
Dentists Comprehensive dental services All states
Advanced Dental Therapists Limited restorative and preventive services Minnesota
Dental Hygienists Preventive dental services All states
Dental Therapists Limited restorative and preventive services No states, practiced in some Indian Health Services locations in Alaska
Denturists Fabricates dentures without dentist supervision Limited to a few states
Dental Assistants Supportive services to dental providers All states
Expanded Function Dental Assistants and/or Dental Hygienists Some limited restorative procedures in conjunction with dentists Limited to a select number of states

Those concerned with planning to meet health labor force requirements attach a specific meaning to the concepts of need, demand, utilization, and supply. Need can be defined as a normative, professional judgment as to the amount and kind of health care services required to attain or maintain health. The desired frequency of dental care utilized by a population is demand, and the amount of dental care services available can be termed supply. Utilization is the number of dental care services actually consumed, not just desired, which can be important when speculating on the available supply of personnel to meet the demand and/or need.18