Mid-Level Dental Practitioners Reduce Dental Care Shortage

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Would you consider having routine dental exams and straightforward procedures done by a professional care provider who isn't actually a dentist? Although dentists generally buck the trend, individuals with titles such as dental practitioner and dental therapist already offer care in three states. The work is increasingly important as some locales experience a shortage of dentists and many people can't afford typical dental clinic fees. 

About Dental Practitioners & Therapists

Dental practitioners and therapists are essentially on the scale between a dental hygienist and a dentist. They are considered mid-level care providers. They are similar to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are not medical or osteopathic doctors, but can perform certain types of diagnostic and treatment services under the supervision of doctors.

In addition to doing the tasks of dental hygienists, dental practitioners and therapists can diagnose tooth decay and fill cavities, provide nonsurgical care for gum disease and perform straightforward tooth extractions.

As of early 2015, only Alaska, Maine and Minnesota have mid-level dental care providers, but several other state governments are considering the possibility.


Qualifications for these practitioners vary by state and by title. Typically, the individual needs a minimum of a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene; some positions require a master's degree. They also complete on-the-job training and supervised experience while being mentored by a dentist. 

A Logical Progression

Decades ago, dentists often did all the teeth cleaning and polishing that now is mainly the job of dental hygienists. Hiring hygienists gradually became a standard practice because dentists then could accept more patients and devote more time to complex procedures. 

Advocates of the mid-level care model see dental practitioners and therapists the same way. A dentist in a city could have a satellite clinic in rural areas, overseeing mid-level care providers who work there. Rural areas tend to have the most problematic shortages of dentists.

Dentists also could charge lower fees to patients who see the dental practitioners. They could accept patients who normally can't afford dental care because of low incomes and no dental insurance. In addition, more dentists would be willing to accept Medicaid patients; many refuse these patients now because reimbursement amounts are low. 

What This Means for You

If you live in a region with a shortage of dentists, mid-level dental care could offer a significant advantage to you in the future. This also holds true if you have trouble affording dental care for yourself and your family. Watch for news about mid-level dental care providers in your locale and tell other people who could benefit from this option.