Children, Low-Income Adults Benefitting from Dental Therapists

Midlevel dental providers are now giving treatment to the people who need it most: children and low-income adults.

The report comes from Community Catalyst and concluded that these dental providers in Alaska and Minnesota cost their employers 27 and 29 percent of their generated revenue, respectively. The report showed that 85 percent of the treatment would be considered routine and preventative and 25 percent of patients need cavities filled.

This report is the first to comprehensively view the economics of practicing midlevel dental providers in the United States as a method of increasing the reach of dental care. Based on information from the government, 45 million Americans live in places without the requisite number of dentists. Millions others simply can’t afford dental care.

In addition to Alaska and Minnesota, eight other states have moved forward with legislation to permit dental therapists. Other states may soon put together legislation to allow them while 50 countries around the world utilize dental therapists.

The other findings in the report, which was commissioned from August 2011 through December 2012, included the majority of services being preventative in 32.8 percent of cases. Also, 44 percent of people were treated with sealants while 43 percent were given fluoride varnishes.

Only 23.7 percent of the cases for dental care therapists were restorative. Only 3.8 percent of the patients needed extractions.

The largest portion of revenue (46.7 percent) came from restorative procedures.

In Minnesota, 78 percent of the patients for dental therapists were publicly insured—and most of the patients were younger than 21. There were about 66 percent of the patients in Alaska under age 21.

Dental therapists have been practicing in Minnesota since 2011 and Alaska since 2006. Among the more than 2,000 patients served in Minnesota, about 84 percent were enrolled in Medicaid and 9 percent didn’t have insurance. In Alaska, more than 40,000 patients have been treated in tribal health clinics in rural Alaska. These people would not receive dental treatment, if not for these dental therapists.

More than 50 million Americans lack basic dental care. As a result, nearly 60 percent of children encounter tooth decay.

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