Health | Opinion

Opinion: A model in dental care from Alaska Native villages

"A more immediate solution is to train dental therapists who can provide preventive care and routine procedures like sealants, fillings and simple extractions outside the confines of a traditional dentist’s office. Dental therapists are common worldwide, and yet in the United States they practice only in Alaska and Minnesota, where state law allows it. Legislation is pending in five more states.

The dental profession has resisted efforts to allow midlevel providers to deliver this kind of care, and the government has so far failed to push for the change. It must do so now. The federal government could encourage states to pass laws allowing these providers to practice by calling for demonstration projects proving their worth.

The best model for how this system can work is found in remote Alaska Native villages, many accessible only by plane, snowmobile or dogsled, where high school seniors once graduated with full sets of dentures. Unable to recruit dentists to these areas, Alaska has been training its own dental therapists."

Get the Story:
Louis W. Sullivan: Dental Insurance, but No Dentists (The New York Times 4/9)

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