A nationwide shortage in the number of dentists has caused an influx in the number of states that are licensing dental therapists — and are being met with resistance from the dentists themselves, a May 6 USA Today article reports.
Only a handful of states currently allow dental therapists — a dentist’s equivalent of a physician’s assistant — to be licensed. Dental therapists get two years of intensive training before entering the field, where their work consists mainly of dental cleanings and procedures like extractions, according to the article.
However, now that there is a lack of dentists across the country, these states are turning to dental therapists to pick up more responsibility.
According to Delta Dental Insurance company data, about three times as many people across the United States are without dental insurance as are without health insurance. Medicare doesn’t cover the majority of dental services; Medicaid coverage is determined by the state governments.
Rural areas have been hit the hardest by the shortage, according to the USA Today article. In these areas, people are also more likely to avoid going to the dentist until it’s too late — the Pew Center on the States estimated that in 2009, more than 830,000 visits to the emergency room were for preventable dental emergencies, a 16% increase from 2006.
Despite the fact that allowing licensed dental therapists to fill in for the dentist shortage would help alleviate the nation’s lack of available dental care, the American Dental Association remains adamant against the idea, according to the article.
“The ADA does not consider the one-size-fits-all mid-level dental provider model to be a viable solution to the diverse set of barriers that impede millions from getting dental care,” the ADA wrote in a statement.