Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Study suggests dental therapists are good option for underserved areas

A new study funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation reveals dental therapists in an Alaskan pilot program provide safe, competent and appropriate dental care. "The two-year, intensive evaluation is the first independent evaluation of its scale to assess care provided by dental therapists practicing in the United States," the Kellogg Foundation writes.  "It confirms what numerous prior studies of dental therapists practicing in other countries have already shown: that dental therapists provide safe care for underserved populations."

Dental therapists have been providing dental care to remote Alaska Native villages since 2006. "These findings clearly indicate to me that alternative providers such as dental therapists can successfully provide good, quality dental care in areas where people can’t gain access to dentists," Sterling K. Speirn, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Other states and tribal areas should explore the dental therapist model as a way to expand the reach of dentists, and in the process, help millions of people get the dental care they so desperately need." The study observed dental therapists in five communities and evaluated the experience of hundreds of patients and relied on examination standards used for assessing clinical competency for board certification of U.S. dental school graduates.

The report concluded "dental therapists are technically competent to perform the procedures within their scope of work and are doing so safely and appropriately, they are consistently working under the general supervision of dentists, they are successfully treating cavities and helping to relieve pain for people who often had to wait months or travel hours to seek treatment, patient satisfaction with their care is very high and they are well-accepted in tribal villages," the Kellogg Foundation writes. The study was conducted by RTI International and was funded in part by the Rasmuson Foundation and the Bethel Community Services Foundation. (Read more)

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