- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I am frustrated and disappointed at the Associated Press story published in The Washington Times last week about a new dental therapist program in Minnesota (“Minnesota trains dental ‘therapists’ in bid to improve access to care,” Nation, Dec. 27).

The story included only a partial quotation from me that distorts the American Dental Association’s position on the program. The ADA has not endorsed Minnesota’s approach for one key reason: We do not believe that people other than fully trained and licensed dentists should perform surgical procedures on their patients. The ADA bases its policies in this area on educational standards established by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). The CODA’s job is to assure that people who provide dental care are appropriately educated and trained to do so safely and effectively.

I also question statements in the story claiming that deploying dental therapists will somehow save money without compromising the quality of care. The reporter should have questioned these claims. We know of no evidence to indicate that they are true.

I made two essential points in my interview that accurately reflect how the ADA believes access to oral health issues should be addressed, both of which the reporter chose to ignore: First, as doctors of oral health, dentists are uniquely qualified to lead the dental team, performing such vital and fundamental functions as diagnosis, developing treatment plans and performing surgical procedures. While we may delegate aspects of patient care to appropriately trained and educated members of the dental team, licensed dentists are ultimately responsible for the health and safety of their patients.

Second, a proven way to improve access to oral health care is to adequately fund dental services under Medicaid and similar programs. Most states allocate only 2 percent or less of their Medicaid budgets to dental services. Michigan and other states that have improved funding and streamlined the dental Medicaid process have seen increases in the number of participating dentists and the number of patients who receive care.

The AP story inaccurately portrayed the ADA’s positions and should be clarified. Improving access to oral health care is one of the ADA’s foremost advocacy priorities. We can do this without compromising the safety and quality of care that people receive.

KATHLEEN O’LOUGHLIN, DMD

Executive director

American Dental Association

Chicago

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