A New Career: Dental Therapists (DT) and Advanced Dental Therapists (ADT)

Dental therapists can fill cavities, extract primary teeth and put in crowns and spacers. DT’s get a 2½-year degree (compared with four years for dentists) and earn roughly half what a dentist does.

University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s Dental Therapy program is the first in the country to graduate 9 students in 2011. The school’s second graduating class of nine students received their degrees earlier this month. Although Minnesota is currently the only state to license dental therapists, a number of others, including California, Kansas, Maine and New Hampshire, are considering such midlevel providers as one possible way to get more care to people in need.

Although rare in the U.S., midlevel dental providers are not new. An April report by the non-profit W.K. Kellogg Foundation looked at dental therapists in 54 countries, from New Zealand to Canada to the United Kingdom, and concluded that they have been “providing quality preventative and restorative services to patients for nearly 100 years.”

Since 2005, a program operated by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has used dental therapists to treat patients living in remote tribal areas of the state.

After acquiring 2,000 hours of clinical experience as a dental therapist (DT), graduates from this program can be certified as an advanced dental therapist (ADT), approved to perform additional basic procedures, such as extractions of adult teeth, when authorized by a supervising dentist who does not have to be on the premises. This will allow the ADT to provide services at nursing homes, homeless shelters, schools and emergency rooms at a fraction of the cost of a dentist.

Employment is restricted to dental practices where 50% or more of the patients are on medical assistance or are low income. A dentist must diagnose patients and formulate a treatment plan before delegating a prescribed set of procedures that a Dental Therapist carries out.

An April report by the non-profit W.K. Kellogg Foundation looked at dental therapists in 54 countries, from New Zealand to Canada to the United Kingdom, and concluded that they have been “providing quality preventative and restorative services to patients for nearly 100 years.”

My question is whether the U of MN teaches DT’s to recognize the early signs of oral cancer.

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