Given that even simple dental care can be very expensive and that few of us have insurance to cover that care, why aren’t there dental therapists (the dental equivalent of a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant)? We should not have to go to a dentist for simple dental services like fillings and simple extractions; a dental therapist, trained over two years to provide less complex procedures than dentists, could offer this care at lower cost.
Until recently, the American Dental Association had successfully blocked dental therapists from offering dental services in all states but Alaska, according to health advocate, Wendell Potter. The dentists argued that the dental therapists did more harm than good. Certainly, the dental therapists did harm to the pocketbooks of dentists, but there is no evidence of other harm.
New research suggests, in fact, that dental therapists can improve oral health and overall health outcomes. And, they can do so at lower cost than dentists. Alaska has permitted dental therapists to practice for more than 10 years with excellent results. And, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand have allowed dental therapists for several decades.
In the last several years, Minnesota and Maine have legalized the practice of dental therapy by dental therapists. And, it appears that over the next several years many more states may do so as well. It’s important they do. As Wendell Potter notes, 50 million Americans live in dental deserts, rural areas where there isn’t even a dentist to see if you could afford to see one.
For more information about out-of-pocket costs for services Medicare does not cover, click here.