The first dental therapist on the East Coast will begin working in Bangor, Maine, at Penobscot Community Health Care. Clare Roesler will begin work six years after a law passed in Maine to allow dental therapists to practice, according to the National Partnership for Dental Therapy.
“I’m thrilled to start giving critical dental care to this community. I firmly believe that where you live and your financial situation should never determine if you can access dental care. I look forward to working with leaders in the community to get care to those who need it most,” said Roesler.
“This is a monumental step forward for improving dental care in the United States as nearly 60 million Americans live in areas without enough dental professionals to meet their needs,” said Tera Bianchi, dental access program director at Community Catalyst and cochair of the National Partnership for Dental Therapy.
“Dental therapists are a proven, cost-effective way to address the lack of dental care access that has only worsened during the global pandemic. Oral healthcare is a basic need and regular access not only identifies, but also addresses, bigger health issues,” said Bianchi.
“Millions of Americans have difficulty getting the dental care they need to live healthy, productive lives,” said Kristen Mizzi Angelone, senior manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Pew applauds Penobscot Community Health Care for expanding its team with New England’s first dental therapist, who will help make dental care more accessible to the people who need it. We look forward to the continued expanded use of dental therapists across the country,” said Angelone.
“We are thrilled that the Northeast now has a dental therapist living and working to provide dental care, and there is still more work to be done to ensure that dental care is accessible for all Americans,” said Dr. Cheyanne Warren, program director for dental therapy at Vermont Technical College.
“As the region’s first dental therapy education program, we look forward to training more dental therapists to join Claire’s ranks here in New England,” Warren said.
Nearly 40% of kindergartners in Maine have experienced tooth decay, nearly a quarter of them have untreated decay, and 15 of the state’s 16 counties have a shortage of dentists, according to the National Partnership for Dental Therapy.
Also, as of 2016, only 15% of Maine dentists participated in the state’s Medicaid program, and less than 40% of kids on Medicaid saw a dentist in 2018, which was the third lowest percentage in the nation, the National Partnership for Dental Therapy said.
Penobscot Community Health Care is a clinic focused on increasing access to critical healthcare to those who need it most, the National Partnership for Dental Therapy said.
A law allowing dental therapists to practice in Maine was passed in 2014 and amended in 2019, but license and certification processes weren’t approved until June 2020. Dental therapists have been working in the United States for more than 15 years and currently work in the West and Midwest.
Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut in the Northeast have laws that allow for dental therapists to work, but Roesler will be the first to practice in the region. A dental therapy education program at Vermont Tech expects to open in 2022 with distance learning options to allow the school to serve Maine as well as Vermont.