Dental Therapists: Caring for Communities, Creating Good Jobs
When it comes to lack of access to dental care, New Mexico and Alaska have a lot in common. Dental care is hard to get. One big difference in Alaska, though, is the presence of dental therapists, who for more than 10 years have brought high-quality, affordable dental care to remote Tribal communities.
Dental therapists—call dental health aide therapists, or DHATs, in Alaska—have made preventive and everyday dental care available to more than 40,000 Alaska Natives who previously didn’t have regular access to care. For the first time, some communities are seeing a new generation of kids who are cavity-free.
Dental therapists come from underserved communities themselves—and return there to live and work after completing their education.
“The great thing about dental health aide therapists is that they are people who look like us,” says Val Davidson, Alaska Commissioner for Health and Human Services and a former member of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which oversees the DHAT program. “They speak our language. They know our cultural norms because they are us.”
Dental therapists also bring economic benefits to the communities they serve. They create good jobs and opportunities for young people to work and remain in their home towns. In 2011, 19 dental therapists generated 76 jobs around Alaska and $9 million worth of economic activity.
“Maybe it’s time to give dental health aide therapy the opportunity to work in other communities in the same way that it has here,” says Davidson.
We agree: It’s time to bring dental therapists to New Mexico.
Top 5 Reasons New Mexico Loves Dental Therapists
In Alaska, dental therapists have made care available to more than 40,000 people in remote communities since they started practicing 10 years ago. Minnesota started its dental therapy program in 2009, and already is seeing improvement in access. Meanwhile, here in New Mexico, many people—especially those living in rural area—must wait months to get dental care. Dental therapists could help them get the care they need when they need it.
More than 800,000 Americans visit the emergency room each year because of dental problems. The ER is the most costly place to get treatment, and dental services generally are very limited. By focusing on preventive services and early treatment of oral disease, dental therapists can keep dental problems from becoming costly—and painful—emergencies.
Dental therapists bring new economic opportunity to their communities. In 2011, 19 Alaska dental therapists generated 76 jobs around the state and $9 million worth of economic activity.
Most dental therapists come from underserved communities—and they return to those very communities to practice. In Alaska, 78 percent of dental therapists are Alaska Natives. They stay in the underserved communities where they are needed. And because they understand their communities, dental therapists have the trust and confidence of the people in the communities they serve.
Everyone should have access to good, everyday dental care when and where they need it. Dental therapists can help make that happen for New Mexico!
Dental Therapists: Sharing the Love
In June, Health Action New Mexico launches its billboard campaign to show just how much New Mexico loves dental therapists. We know, because thousands of you voiced your support for dental therapists, launching a movement to improve oral health in all our communities. We want to make sure everyone knows!
Having dental therapists in New Mexico would benefit everyone: expanding dental care access to hundreds of thousands of children and families, saving money by preventing dental emergencies, and creating good jobs.
Health Action New Mexico is committed to creating access for all New Mexico communities. The new billboards that we’re putting up around the state are our way of saying THANK YOU for being part of this movement!
Here’s where you can see our billboards:
- Socorro, I-25 W, starting NOW!
- Moriarty, I-40 S, starting NOW!
- Albuquerque, I-25 E, starting NOW!
- Grants I-40 N, starting the week of July 6