Adding dental therapists to the health care team to improve access to oral health care for children

Acad Pediatr. 2009 Nov-Dec;9(6):446-51. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2009.08.005. Epub 2009 Oct 22.


Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, and the subsequent National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health, contributed significantly to raising awareness regarding the lack of access to oral health care by many Americans, especially minority and low-income populations, with resulting disparities in oral health. The problem is particularly acute among children. The current dental workforce in the United States is inadequate to meet the oral health care needs of children. It is inadequate in terms of numbers of dentists, as well as their geographic distribution, ethnicity, education, and practice orientation. Dental therapists, paraprofessionals trained in a 2 academic-year program of postsecondary education, have been employed internationally to improve access to oral health care for children. Research has documented that utilizing dental therapists is a cost-effective method of providing quality oral health care for children. Dental therapists have recently been introduced in Alaska by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Dental therapists could potentially care for children in dental offices, public health clinics, and school systems, as well as in the offices of pediatricians and family physicians. Adding dental therapists to the health care team would be a significant strategy for improving access to care for children and reducing oral health disparities.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dental Auxiliaries / economics
  • Dental Auxiliaries / education
  • Dental Auxiliaries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Dental Care for Children*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Care Team
  • Pediatric Dentistry*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Workforce