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What Are Dental Therapists?

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What Are Dental Therapists?

What Are Dental Therapists?
FAQs about practitioners who provide routine care in a growing number of states
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Dental therapists receive rigorous training in a select set of the most commonly needed routine procedures.
Under the Commission on Dental Accreditation’s national dental therapy accreditation standards, students
must receive at least three academic years (not including summers) of full-time instruction, including clinical
experience. For specific areas of practice in which they overlap, dental therapists receive the same training as
dentists. They also are taught how to effectively collaborate with dentists and other providers on dental teams.
How much education and training do dental therapists receive?
Where is dental therapy practiced?
Q: Do dental therapists provide quality care?
• The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium introduced dental therapists to the state’s tribal communities in 2004.
The new providers were authorized in compliance with federal law and were the first such workers in the nation.
• Minnesota approved the nation’s first statewide legislation to authorize dental therapists in 2009.
• Maine enacted dental therapy legislation in 2014 and Vermont followed suit in 2016.
• Oregon authorized a pilot program in 2016 that allowed dental therapists to work at approved tribal sites.
• Washington state authorized dental therapists to practice in tribal communities in 2017.
• Arizona and Michigan enacted dental therapy laws in 2018.
• Idaho authorized dental therapists to practice in tribal settings in early 2019.
• New Mexico, Connecticut, and Nevada enacted dental therapy laws in 2019.
More states—including Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Wisconsin—are considering dental
therapy legislation, pilots, or other proposals to authorize midlevel providers.
Additionally, more than 50 countries allow dental therapists to provide routine preventive and restorative care.2
Research shows that dental therapists deliver high-quality, safe care. More than 1,000 studies and assessments
from around the globe found no quality concerns for these midlevel providers.3
And a study published in 2017
found that residents in Alaskan communities frequented by dental therapists had more preventive care and fewer
extractions than residents in areas with no dental therapists.4 Over 40,000 Alaska Native people have regular
access to dental care because of the addition of dental therapists to dentists’ teams.5
Dental therapists can help dentists provide routine services to more patients, expand dentists’ practices, and
generate additional revenue. Dentists can supervise dental therapists without being physically present, which
offers maximum flexibility when employing dental therapists, whether in the dental office to expand operating
hours or in community-based settings.
Dental therapists earn lower salaries than dentists, so incorporating them into the team can also help dentists
provide more cost-effective care. By delegating some of the routine procedures to these midlevel staff members,
dentists can lower their per-unit costs, treat more patients, and generate higher revenue. In one case study, a
private practice dentist who hired a dental therapist saw patient visits increase by 27 percent and the number
of new patients grow 38 percent in the first year. The practice also treated more than 200 additional Medicaid
patients and earned nearly $24,000 in additional profit.
Stay up to date about dental therapy by signing up for our newsletter.
1 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General” (2000), http://www.
2 D.A. Nash et al., “Dental Therapists: A Global Perspective,” International Dental Journal 58, no. 2 (2008): 61-70, doi:10.1922/IDJ_1819-
3 D.A. Nash et al., “A Review of the Global Literature on Dental Therapists,” Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology 42, no. 1 (2014):
4 D.L. Chi et al., “Dental Therapists Linked to Improved Dental Outcomes for Alaska Native Communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta,”
Journal of Public Health Dentistry 78, no. 2 (2018): 175-82,
5 Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, “Dental Health Aides Therapists: ANTHC’s Tribal Solution for Alaska’s Dental Care Crisis,” last
modified Jan. 17, 2019,
Q: How can dental therapists help dentists?
For further information, please visit:
Contact: Josh Rosenblum, officer, communications
Project website:
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