Dental therapists can be our heroes

Most of us don’t know what a dental therapist is, and that’s due to the fact that dental therapists receive strong opposition from dental associations and aren’t (yet) legally allowed to perform certain tasks on patients in many states. More importantly though, dental therapists can be exceptionally beneficial to the underserved communities by increasing the providers in the provider to patient ratio. In some communities, there are more than 3,000 people per dentist, which leaves many individuals without access to quality dental care. With the integration of dental therapists in the dental industry, much of that void can be filled.

So, what is a dental therapist?

A dental therapist is someone who not a certified dentist, but is meant to be a member of a dental clinic team who is trained in preventative and restorative dental care. They would not only provide advice on how to practice maintaining healthy oral hygiene, but also take on small tasks that dentists typically perform such as filling a cavity, teeth cleaning and polishing, placing crowns, and extracting primary teeth. Dental therapists essentially bridge the gap between dental hygienists and dentists, and can also analogized to physician’s assistants in the medical industry – they aren’t actually a professional, certified doctor, but are trained similarly to a professional.  

The training dental therapists receive in addition to the tasks they are permitted to perform are typically much of what underserved communities are in need of, and are relatively quick procedures. However, some individuals need major procedures like tooth replacements but the dental implants cost isn’t feasible for them, and this can lead to immense toothaches and dental emergencies with the emergency room as their only option to relieve their dental pain.

For the sake of understanding the impact dental therapists can potentially make, let’s suppose there is a city with 45,000 people, and for every 3,500 people, there is one dentist. This would mean that for 45,000 people, there are about twelve dentists. Even if all twelve dentists were to max their patients everyday, they would only be able to cater to 120 patients a day.

Though these numbers are made up for an example, these circumstances are a reality in many cities throughout the nation. And though the legalization of dental therapists won’t entirely fix this problem, it will definitely help; and it’ll at the very least work as a preventative measure to ensure the underserved communities aren’t increasing.

One small step at a time will create big change.

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