Trail Blazing States
Currently, Alaska and Minnesota have changed local laws to make the role of dental therapist possible. Other states including Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Vermont and Washington are also working towards developing both the education and role of dental therapists in state.
Alaska is thought to be paving the way for the change and the trend was addressed in a 2008, The New York Times article. In Alaska, there are dental clinics solely staffed by dental therapists. Those providers have completed a specially designed two-year course of study. Alaskan dental therapists must attend the University of Washington training center in Anchorage and that degree will legally entitled to perform their craft on Alaska Natives. All work must be evaluated by a dentist.
Minnesota is also paving the way for professional dental therapists. Since 2008, the state has implemented legislative efforts to authorize the dental care provider and create educational guidelines for the role. The state now allows two types of providers dental therapists. Both types of dental therapists first need to get a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and advanced dental therapists require a master's degree from the university.
The American Dental Association (ADA) agrees that a new type of dental care provider would be helpful, they currently oppose the dental therapist role. As with the point of contention in Kansas, "The ADA does not believe a non-dentist should perform surgical/irreversible procedures," (http://www.ada.org/news/5940.aspx).
In lieu of dental therapists, the ADA supports a more conservative dental care provider role called a dental aide. The aides would provide those in need with a dental exam, decide who needed to see a dentist and then schedule their appointments. They would also be trained and authorized to place fluoride dental sealants but would not be allowed to drill, fill or pull teeth.
Right now, the best way to prevent your child's dental health from becoming the subject of debate is to prevent it from becoming an issue in the first place. That involves ensure your child eats a nutritious diet, drinks water, practices oral hygiene and goes for regular dental exams. Those looking to find a great kids dentist, can call 1-800-DENTIST to get the number great pre-screened dentist dedicated to improving oral health.