MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The Minnesota Dental Association (MDA) has serious concerns about the inconclusive nature of findings in a report issued by the Minnesota Department of Health on the early impact of dental therapists on the delivery of and access to dental services. This report, issued in conjunction with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, was mandated by the 2009 Minnesota Legislature when dental therapists were first authorized to be licensed in our state, but is based on small numbers of practicing dental therapists and the patients they have served.
To date Minnesota has licensed 32 dental therapists, with only 26 currently practicing, a virtually insignificant number compared to the over 17,000 licensed dental professionals in our state. Such small numbers shed serious doubt on the findings in the report, which claims that practicing dental therapists have had a pronounced impact on underserved populations, from reduced travel times and wait times for appointments to increased productivity and improved patient satisfaction. This study is not only premature in terms of its validity, but it also utilizes much anecdotal evidence that is reported as fact.
In particular, the MDA is concerned that the MDH report provides little conclusive evidence of the impact of dental therapists on access to dental care or their economic impact.
- Only four clinics of the 15 surveyed are in rural Minnesota, where access to dental care is a greater challenge.
- Some benefits attributable to dental therapists include cost savings and increased dental team productivity, but were reported anecdotally and not substantiated.
- Of the 6,338 patients served by dental therapists, 84% were enrolled in public programs. Because public program reimbursement rates are the same for dentists and dental therapists, the addition of the mid-level practitioner to the dental workforce results in no savings for the state.
“While the report fulfills the legislature’s mandated requirements, it is by no means a complete picture,” stated Dr. Michael Perpich, MDA President. “Conclusions are based upon the experiences of seven full time equivalent employees or FTE’s. It would be unrealistic to suggest that the experiences of seven FTE’s can determine trends for an entire health care profession in the state of Minnesota.”
While dental therapists may be a viable dental team member in certain settings, their continued licensing and employment will require ongoing assessment to truly understand what, if any, impact they will have on delivering quality dental care to underserved populations in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Dental Association is the voice of dentistry in Minnesota, representing practicing dentists. It is committed to the highest standards of oral health and access to care for all Minnesotans. You can learn more at www.mndental.org.