Losing baby teeth is a rite of passage for nearly every person on earth and typically nature will kick into gear and allow for the shedding milk teeth typically starts starting at age six. However, thanks to the rise of tooth decay and cavities in children, more of those teeth are being extracted by professional dentists.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has proclaimed that cavities in preschoolers is the number one chronic (yet preventable) condition impacting the health of the nation's young and research backs up the belief. Dentists across the nation have reported an increase of preschoolers of all income levels sporting multiple cavities and tooth decay on baby teeth and have been relying on the powers of general anesthesia to help deliver the essential dental treatments to improve the conditions.
For decades, dentist have been the only ones authorized to remove baby teeth as the procedure is categorized as a type of oral surgery. However as the population has boomed and the number of professional dentists have declined/plateaued the nation is being plagued by a dentist shortage. As a result lawmakers are trying to find alternatives to the type of dental care professional and that has Kansas lawmakers debating over who is legally entitled to pull baby teeth.
According to independent think tank, the Pew Center on the States, over 16 million children do not have access to basic dental care. According to the organization the state of Kansas only received a C for their efforts to combat the issue and the failure for the state to approve a new type of dental care provider is at the core for the average grade. Local lawmakers are now debating the issue.
Countless folks live in rural settings in Kansas (Reuters reports "about half the 105 counties in Kansas have two or fewer dentists and there are 15 counties with no dentist at all" (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/28/us-dentists-kansas-idUSBRE83R0F520120428) and across the nation (estimates suggest that 52 million Americans live in areas under-served by dental care providers) those communities are known for having a dentist shortage. As a result, the topic of introducing a new type of dental care provider has gained momentum. Kansas lawmakers are officially entering the debate with the typical results; dental health care advocates are encourage the creation of providers such as dental therapists and dental hygienists while lobbying groups composed of dentists are against the plan.
Areas not adequately served by dentists are called "Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs)." The government estimates that 10,094 more dentists need to be added to the nation's dental care system in order to fill the void (http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/shortage/). As a result, several states and organization such as the American Association of Public Health Dentistry and the Kellogg Foundation is encouraging the creation of a mid-level dental services provider called dental therapists.
At this point, dental therapists are not an officially designated dental care provider and for the states that do have them, their roles vary. Typically dental therapist is an authorized mid-level dental care provider requiring a degree in a specially constructed two-year program. Dental therapists can deliver dental treatments for both preventative dentistry and restorative dental care and depending on the state where they are authorized those treatments can include treating tooth decay, filling dental cavities, tooth extractions, providing dental cleanings and applying dental sealants without a prior exam or approval of a dentist.
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.