An analysis of the American dental therapist and its role in American oral healthcare
Linker, Ross B.
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The maintenance of a high level of oral health has become more pressing in recent years. With more studies showing that good oral hygiene is directly related to a better quality of life and may also have implications for overall systemic health, the demand for and necessity of oral healthcare has increased. While many individuals are able to easily access proper dental care, should they desire, it is not the case for many people in rural populations and lower economic status. To address this issue, several states in the U.S. began implementing a new type of oral health practitioner to help meet the oral health needs of these populations -the dental therapist. Borrowed from similar programs in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the American dental therapist initiative was designed to provide affordable, basic dental care to individuals who do not have regular access to such oral health services. However, the program has been met with harsh resistance from many in the dental community. Some dentists claim that dental therapists do more harm than good, asserting that therapists economically hurt existing dental practices, are unqualified to provide appropriate dental care and are not trained to deal with all that could happen to a patient during a dental procedure. Recognizing the importance of resolving this conflict, this thesis will take an unbiased look at the clash between the proponents and opponents of the American dental therapist movement. At the conclusion of this paper, it will be shown that the American dental therapist movement, while sound in theory, is currently not structured appropriately to achieve the goals that it was designed to complete. Additionally, this paper will show that the response of American dentists to the dental therapist program is not entirely justified and should be amended to be more supportive of the initiative and its aims. Further discussion and examination of the American dental therapist movement ought to continue.
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