By: Kasey Wilson, Policy Analyst | Community Catalyst Dental Access Project
Dental therapists have been practicing in the U.S. for 15 years and we have good data showing the positive impact they have on the communities where they serve. Dental therapists improve access to care, including reducing wait time and travel distance for appointments, reduce the need for extractions and help dental offices save money and increase revenue. However, the profession’s impact goes beyond just dental care and oral health.
The profession of dental therapy is not only resulting in good-paying jobs in communities that have not been able to retain health care providers, it is fostering a culturally respectful healthcare workforce that supports the overall wellbeing of communities and economies. The association between good jobs and health is well documented. Dental therapy is a unique policy solution that lives at the intersection of both of these important issues. Where dental therapists are practicing, communities who are most impacted by lack of access to dental care now have new opportunities to both get and be providers of care. In communities where both regular dental care and good-paying jobs have been scarce, sometimes for decades, this is revolutionary.
One of the most important factors in maintaining dental therapy’s history as a profession that lifts up communities, is ensuring that members of underserved groups can access the education they need to become a dental therapist. The success of this program goes far beyond improving people’s oral health. Alaska has demonstrated that when community leaders, employers and community-minded education programs work together, it is not only possible to move the needle on population oral health outcomes, but also to have a positive economic impact on those communities.