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Alaska Dental Therapy Spurs Similar Program in Five States, Backlash from ADA

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A recent RTI International survey of the Alaska Dental Health Aide Therapist Program found therapists are providing safe and appropriate care while combating the state’s high rate of tooth decay that’s more than double the national average.

Pioneered by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which trains and employs therapists, the program delivers dental care to underserved communities.

Incited by the program's success, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently announced plans to pursue similar models in five states: Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Vermont and Washington, with promises to invest more than $16 million by 2014, reports Dentistry IQ.

The American Dental Association (ADA) opposes the initiative, criticizing the “controversial” provider model, the Alaska Dental Health Aide Therapist, and the “limited research evaluation conducted by Kellogg.”

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Chiefly, the ADA contests non-dentists performing “irreversible procedures," including drilling and extraction, for the sake of patient safety, reports the New York Times.

“No matter where you stand on the issue of non-dentists performing dental surgery—and we stand firmly against it—limiting the approach to overcoming the many access barriers to promoting this one workforce model ignores numerous, and we believe much greater, barriers to care," ADA President Raymond Gist, DDS, said in a press statement. "Frankly, these energies and resources would be better directed toward improving existing programs.”

Gist suggested patients in geographically isolated regions should be assisted with issues such as “transportation, securing time off from work, translation services or child care,” rather than providing therapists as a substitute for “fully trained dentists.”

The Alaska Daily News, on the contrary, commends the program’s ability to reach people in remote areas, providing them “better access to basic, skilled care without the expense of flying to village hubs or urban centers.”