CHICAGO (May 7, 2013)—More than 16 million U.S. children suffer from dental decay, and research shows that many parents lack basic information about oral health. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) calls for dental organizations to work together to create sustainable strategies to improve oral health outcomes for all Americans, especially children.
A few states in the U.S. are considering implementing a dental therapist model to improve oral health and they may be utilizing a March 2013 report from the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign (“Dental Therapists in New Zealand: What the Evidence Shows”) to make their decision. The AGD cautions that this report contains misleading information about the “success” of this model.
The Pew report makes an incorrect comparison between New Zealand and the United States; New Zealand has had a dental therapist program since the 1920s. Authors of the report write that only 3 percent of children ages 5 to 11 in New Zealand have untreated dental decay in their permanent teeth, as compared to 20 percent of the same age group of children in the U.S. However, the 20 percent refers to decay in primary and permanent teeth in U.S. children. In reality, while 2.7 percent of children in the age group in New Zealand suffer from untreated dental decay in their permanent teeth, another 17.3% of these children suffer from untreated dental decay in their primary teeth. The amount of decay is almost the same in both nations, thereby invalidating the argument that a dental therapist model may reduce the prevalence of children’s dental decay.
“The fact that the percentage of children suffering from untreated dental decay is almost identical in both countries is a clear sign that a dental therapist model does not help to decrease untreated dental decay in children,”says AGD President Jeffrey M. Cole, DDS, MBA, FAGD. “We all want the same thing: a system that provides the best quality of oral health care to all Americans. We hope to work with Pew and other dental organizations to identify joint strategies for boosting access to and utilization of the oral health care services already established.”
The authors of the Pew report also claim that more than 1,000 studies exist to show that dental therapists across the globe offer quality care. The American Dental Association already has refuted that claim, explaining that those studies failed to find a positive impact of dental therapists on the overall health status of a population.
“We believe that no child should experience pain or suffer broader health issues resulting from untreated dental disease and conditions. But we don’t agree that implementing a dental therapist model throughout our country will help to decrease the percentage of children who have untreated tooth decay,” said Dr. Cole.
Rather than using funds to analyze the dental therapist model, the AGD urges Pew to instead strategize and develop a plan for improving oral health literacy, and subsequently influencing families to utilize quality oral health programs that already exists in the U.S.; a system of care that is provided by or under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
“By educating children, their parents, or caregivers on the importance of having and maintaining good oral health, we can help improve the overall well-being of our children,” said Dr. Cole.