Dental Therapists an Answer to Access to Care – The ADA Response


Aurora Johnson, left, a dental therapist, filled cavities for Paul Towarak, 10, in the village of Unalakleet, Alaska. For more involved procedures, Ms. Johnson refers patients to a dentist. Photo courtesy of New York Times

The President of the American Dental Association responds to the piece that originally ran in the New York Times.

Re “Dental Clinics, Meeting a Need With No Dentist” (front page, April 28):

Whether it’s Alaska Natives, residents of other rural areas, nursing homes or other institutions, or people who simply can’t afford care, too many Americans suffer with untreated dental disease.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned advocates for improving dental access support having people with considerably less training than dentists performing complex surgical procedures.

You characterize our opposition to these experiments as financial self-interest. In fact, we simply don’t want patients exposed to complex surgery performed by people who lack the training to cope with unforeseen complications. And we work every day to find safer, better solutions.

An obvious one is to fully support what’s been proved to work: adequately financed Medicaid dental programs, oral health education, community water fluoridation, school sealant and other prevention programs, and incentives to help locate dentists in underserved areas.

It’s neither right or necessary to relegate people who live far away or who are poor and whose lives are different from ours to a lesser standard of care. A.D.A. members are committed to solving access disparities without needlessly shortchanging the most vulnerable Americans.

Mark J. Feldman
President, American Dental Association
Chicago, May 2, 2008

Dentistry is a demanding, exacting profession which requires skill and training. Diluting the quality of this training to provide access to care for patients of lower economic status helps no one – especially those who need the care the most.

Private dentistry with subsidized vouchers for the truly poor, disadvantaged, aged and/or disabled would better enable those folks access to care.


Dental Therapists an Answer to Access to Care?