Economic analysis finds therapists increase access to care for children, low-income adults

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A new report has found dental therapists increase access to care for the young and the poor.
A new report has found dental therapists increase access to care for the young and the poor.

A new report assessing the economic viability of services provided by practicing dental therapists in the U.S. shows that they are expanding preventive dental care to people who need it most: children and those who can’t afford care. At the same time, they are providing that care at a reduced cost to the dental practice. The report, released by Community Catalyst, determined that dental therapists currently practicing in Alaska and Minnesota cost their employers 27 and 29 per cent respectively of the revenue they generate.

The report is the first to analyse the economic viability of practicing dental therapists in the U.S. It comes at a time when more than a dozen states are exploring using midlevel dental providers as a way to greatly expand access to dental care. According to the federal government, approximately 45 million people in the U.S. live in areas where there are not enough dentists to serve the population. Millions more can’t afford dental care.

The economic study conducted for Community Catalyst by Frances M. Kim, DDS, DrPH, a general dentist and public health researcher, details the types of procedures that practicing dental therapists in the U.S. perform, the amount of money they generate in relation to the type of procedure and the population they are able to serve. According to the study, nearly 85 per cent of the care they provide is routine and preventive. Filling cavities represented approximately one quarter of their work.

“For the first time we have a real picture of what it means to employ a midlevel dental provider,” said Kim. “What we are seeing is that midlevel providers are providing mostly preventive care to the most economically-challenged patients and are still able to generate enough revenue to ensure that dental practices that employ them can care for the poor.”

Dental therapists are fairly new in the United States, practicing in Alaska and Minnesota. Eight states have put forward legislation seeking to authorize dental therapists. Several other states have called for studying the model further.

“This report underscores just how critical dental therapists could be to fighting what has become the number one chronic but preventable disease affecting children,” said David Jordan, director of the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst. “Children and families with Medicaid often struggle to find a dentist willing to treat them. In 2014, as many as 5.3 million kids could be eligible for services, but they need providers to treat them.”

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. It’s great to have evidence supporting the value of therapist, but we have known this for decades. It is so unfortunate that so many therapists in Australia aren’t used to their full potential.

  2. At the same time wouldn’t it be great if other countries accepted our registrations so more therapists/hygienists could work around the world, especially where there are shortages or the profession is new in their state or country.

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