Chicago, February 29, 2012 – The American Dental Hygienists’ Association commends the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging for continuing to shine a spotlight on the oral health care crisis in this country. The subcommittee, chaired by Bernard Sanders of Vermont, held a hearing this morning entitled “Dental Crisis in America: the Need to Expand Access.”
Access to oral health care remains one of the biggest problems plaguing our country. According to the Government Accountability Office, 25 of 39 states reported that less than half of the dentists treated any Medicaid patients during the previous year. Currently, more than 50 million Americans live in dental health shortage areas and by 2014, the number of dentists reaching retirement age will outpace the number of new dentists entering the workforce, increasing the need for new dental practitioners to fill the void. Without the advent of new mid-level practitioners, the nation’s dental care shortage areas will continue to grow.
In 2009, Minnesota became the first state to pass legislation creating two new types of oral health practitioners, a dental therapist and an advanced dental therapist. The dental therapist (DT) concept is modeled after the physician’s assistant model which requires on-site supervision for most services provided. The advanced dental therapist (ADT) is modeled after the nurse practitioner model and is designed to facilitate collaboration between the ADT and dentist, but does not require on-site supervision. The ADT can provide preventive, therapeutic, diagnostic, prescriptive, and minimally invasive restorative services directly to the underserved, bringing care to patients disenfranchised from the current oral health care system.
Christy Fogarty, RDH, MSOHP, one of Minnesota’s new oral health practitioners, testified at the subcommittee hearing about her experience practicing as a dental hygienist and an ADT, and the impact she has had on increasing access to care. Fogarty currently works at the Children's Dental Services in Minneapolis, Minn., a non-profit dental clinic that services children under the age of 21 and pregnant women.
More than 50 nations already use some form of a mid-level dental providers and rigorous research has shown they provide a safe and high-quality level of oral health care to patients. “ADHA has long advocated for more efficient and better utilization of the existing dental hygiene workforce,” said ADHA President Pam Quinones, RDH, BS. “Our goal is to improve access to dental care throughout the country and to ensure that the public is receiving the best care possible. Christy Fogarty is a great example of how dental hygienists can be used in new ways to deliver needed care.”
ADHA is the largest national organization representing the professional interests of more than 150,000 dental hygienists across the country. Dental hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, licensed in dental hygiene, who provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services that support total health through the promotion of optimal oral health. For more information about ADHA, dental hygiene, or the link between oral health and general health, visit ADHA at www.adha.org. Read the submitted testimony from ADHA, and Christy Fogarty, as well as Fogarty's written statement.