There is an emerging profession in the United States that could potentially improve the quality of and access to oral health care in North Carolina. This profession is that of a dental therapist. JLF’s Jordan Roberts defines a dental therapist like this:

Dental therapy is a relatively new profession in the United States which will increase access to high quality dental care… Dental therapists are highly trained mid-level dental practitioners who operate under the supervision of a dentist and specialize in preventative and restorative care. Their scope of practice resides between that of a dentist and a dental hygienist.

Many people in North Carolina face an access problem to high-quality oral health care as the state has a high number of dental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Dental therapists can help alleviate this burden, as Roberts explains,

They can travel to underserved areas and treat patients that may lack the means to make it to a dentist’s office. This added mobility allows dental therapists to travel to places that are more convenient for patients, such as rural clinics, nursing homes, and schools.

Despite the clear benefits of implementing this profession, states have been slow in adopting the reforms needed to embrace it. Only three states – Maine, Minnesota, and Vermont – have authorized dentists to employ dental therapists. North Carolina should follow these states in welcoming dental therapists as a crucial part of its oral healthcare landscape.

To learn more about how dental therapists could benefit the state, JLF invited Christy Jo Fogarty, the first advanced dental therapist in the country; Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute in Florida; and Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir to speak at our 2019 Dental Therapy Luncheon. Learn more and watch the panel here.