The white paper from the Pew Center on the States notes that, "in particular, by including dental therapists as providers in school-based programs operated by FQHCs, the researchers estimated states could provide access to care for 6.7 million Medicaid-eligible children, nationwide." The analysis also suggests that this significant increase in access could be realized for a cost of approximately $1.8 billion, or just one half of 1 percent of combined state and federal 2009 Medicaid spending. To read the full Pew report, go here.
Nationwide, 830,000 emergency room visits in 2009 were due to preventable dental problems, according to the center. Most of the children lacking care don't have insurance, live in areas without enough dentists or can't find doctors who accept Medicaid. Problems accessing dentists could grow in 2014, when 5 million more children are expected to get dental insurance under the federal health reform law.
Despite the undisputed need, not everyone is behind the concept. The American Dental Association argues that dental therapists lack the training and education needed to perform irreversible surgical procedures and to identify patients' other medical problems, writes Anna Gorman in the Los Angeles Times. Shelly Gehshan, director of the Children's Dental Campaign, said the therapists would be properly educated and would help close vast gaps in care that can lead to costly emergency room visits for dental problems.
In 2005, Alaska became the first state to try out the new dental-care model, when therapists began treating native populations. Minnesota authorized the new tier of practitioner in 2009, and the first graduates of dental therapy programs began practicing last year.