Health | National

Column: Minnesota reaches milestone with dental therapists

"This is a big week for dental care in Minnesota, and maybe nationwide.

The country's first class of dental therapists (DTs) and advanced dental therapists (ADTs) -- oral health providers akin to nurse practitioners -- take their boards April 2-3 at the University of Minnesota. We all should be rooting for them.

Their success means that thousands of uninsured Minnesotans will have access to quality dental care in supervised settings. The key word in that sentence is "supervised." The American Dental Association (ADA) remains "firmly opposed" to the concept, arguing that midlevel providers are a Band-Aid approach to a national epidemic of dental disease.

"I wish them luck," said ADA President Raymond Gist, "but I think we're going to find the same problems we're already having in trying to get treatment done." The ADA questions the Minnesota model's economic feasibility and the wisdom of giving midlevel providers "more responsibility than they should bear."

No one is suggesting that dental therapists will replace dentists. They'll fill holes, literally and figuratively, in community settings where dentists aren't going. Regular dental care is out of reach for about 350,000 low-income Minnesotans. And Minnesota's ranking among the top five states for dental health masks an ugly truth -- 80 percent of tooth decay is found in just 25 percent of our children, most of them low-income."

Get the Story:
Gail Rosenblum: First dental therapists are ready to be put to the test (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 3/31)