Chicago-June 28, 2012—The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) applauds PBS’s Frontline for its special, ‘Dollars and Dentists,’ a program addressing the “broken nature” of the current dental care system in the United States. The program highlighted the significant obstacles many Americans face in accessing oral health care – a shortage of dentists in many parts of the country and the high cost of dental treatment. The access to care crisis in America is complex and requires a myriad of solution strategies to create a true system of quality oral health care that is lacking today.
ADHA believes that part of the solution to this multifaceted access problem, which addresses both cost and access to care, is the utilization of mid-level dental providers. The Frontline program drew attention to one mid-level provider model utilized in Minnesota and likened the dental therapist to the equivalency of a nurse practitioner in medicine. One of these new providers, Christy Fogarty, RDH, MSOHP, was highlighted in the program. Fogarty is one of Minnesota's newly practicing Advanced Dental Therapists (ADT). The ADT model is an example of a blended dental hygiene-dental therapy educational model at the master’s degree level.
ADHA advocates for a blended, dental hygiene-dental therapy-based model that builds upon the prevention knowledge base of a dental hygienist and the restorative skills of a dental therapist. We are in the midst of an access to care crisis. By creating new providers that utilize and expand the dental hygiene scope of practice, we can provide much needed oral health services to the underserved now rather than later. ADHA continues to advocate for new provider models that are licensed, graduates from an accredited educational institution, and can provide care directly to the public.
Currently, 15 states recognize dental hygienists as Medicaid providers. Using a dental hygiene-based mid-level provider model would increase the number of oral health practitioners who provide dental services to Medicaid and underserved populations. As states look for solutions to increase access to oral health care, many are in the developmental stage of creating blended dental hygiene-dental therapy provider models.
In order to address the complex access to oral health care crisis, the oral health community must work together to develop an integrated system of quality oral health care for all. It is imperative that the needs of the patient and evidence-based options remain the focus of this discussion. ADHA looks forward to continuing this dialogue and working collaboratively with oral health partners and other health advocates as we strive to address this problem.
ADHA is the largest national organization representing the professional interests of more than 150,000 dental hygienists across the country. Dental hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, licensed in dental hygiene, who provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services that support total health through the promotion of optimal oral health. For more information about ADHA, dental hygiene, or the link between oral health and general health, visit ADHA at www.adha.org.