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Dental Therapists Brouhaha: Controversy or Dental Marketing Opportunity?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

stack of newspapersWe’ve been watching a bit of a brouhaha in the media recently about dental therapists. We’d like to hear from our readers—practicing dentists in particular—about dental therapists and if there’s a place in dentistry for a mid-level provider.

There is a wide range of dental procedures that a dental therapist can perform as determined by the local regulatory body, and vary by location, state and/or country. Their scope of work--what's included or excluded--is a significant issue in the discussion.

As this concept unfolds, one way or another it’s likely to have an influence on dental practice marketing and advertising. Let us know where you come down on these issues.

Here’s a background snapshot.

Dental therapists have been working in Alaska for several years, and in 2009, Minnesota became the first state to establish licensure, according to that state’s Dental Board. “The Dental Therapist (DT) is a mid-level provider with distinct educational, examination, and practice requirements.” Now several other states are considering authorizing this new tier of provider.

What seems to have inspired the recent splash of news media coverage is the opposing views of a report from the Kellogg Foundation and the related response from the American Dental Association (ADA). The Kellogg report “suggests a greater role for mid-level dental providers in the United States,” while the ADA finds fault with the Kellogg study. The ADA argues in part that, “Rather than an evidence-based report, this article appears to be a 460-page advocacy document intended to support a predetermined conclusion.”

The supporting perspective suggests that dental therapist care is safe and effective, and mid-level providers can help bring dental care to remotely located patients and uninsured children, notably in low income areas of the US. [The Kellogg Foundation information is available online here.]

On the other side of the coin, the ADA and others argue that DT training and education is inadequate for performing major dental procedures. While strongly advocating good oral health, the ADA is clearly skeptical about the Kellogg study and the suggested benefits of Dental Therapists.

Although this discussion may continue for some time, we think it merits watching closely. From a dental marketing and advertising perspective, how would the further/future introduction of Dental Therapists influence your competitive situation? Would the work of DTs expand from low-income groups to a broader public base? Is there a role for a new tier of provider services to work with, or part of the practice of, general dental practices?

What is your take on the role of Dental Therapists, and how would this concept impact your marketing and advertising—now or in the future? Additional background can be found in various news reports including this overview article in the Los Angeles Times. Please let us know what you think.

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