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We applaud the ADA for calling attention to the severe dental access problem in this country. It is critical that people — especially our elected officials — understand how serious the oral health access problem is. But we also have to do more than educate people about the problem and its causes. We have to explore all options that have the potential to expand access, and that includes adding midlevel dental providers to the dental team.
At least a dozen states are now considering adding dental therapists to the dental team. Considering that tooth decay is the most common childhood illness, affecting nearly 60 percent of all children — more common than asthma — it is time for the ADA to drop its lobbying efforts against community-driven efforts and to formally recognize dental therapists not only as an important part of the dental team but also of a multipronged effort to solve this country’s oral health care crisis. Just as nurse practitioners have been able to expand access to care in the medical field,midlevel dental providers can help do the same in oral health by enabling dentists to reach more people, ensuring greater access to routine, preventive care.
Sterling K. Speirn is president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.