Dean of MN dental school visits VT to advocate for dental therapy

Before lawmakers traveled back to their districts for Town Meeting Day break, members of the House Human Services and Government Operations committees hosted a joint hearing to learn more about how dental therapists are helping improve access in Minnesota. The star witness was Dr. Leon Assael, DMD, Dean of the Minnesota Dental School.

As the dean of one of the first dental therapist schools in the U.S., Dr. Assael has unparalleled experience in developing dental therapy training programs, tracking the post-graduation success of students, and analyzing the efficacy of these providers. Dr. Assael met with lawmakers at the State House and educators at Vermont Technical College to share his personal experience overseeing the training of dental therapists and their impact on the dental workforce.

Dr. Assael helped provide answers to some of lawmakers and the public’s most common questions about dental therapy. Below is a brief compilation of some of the issues that the Dean addressed.

Q- Are dental therapists safe?

  • Dental therapists have been practicing in the U.S. for more than 10 years with no adverse patient events or complaints, and no reports of patient safety being compromised.
  • A 2013 American Dental Association study recognized that “appropriately trained mid-level providers are capable of providing high quality service,” and that dental teams with providers like dental therapists treat tooth decay more successfully than teams without them.
  • A review of more than 1,100 studies on dental therapists show they provide high quality care.
  • Actuaries set malpractice insurance rates for dental therapists in MN at $93 a year because their number crunching proves dental therapists are safe.

Q- How will dental therapists be trained?

  • Vermont dental therapists will be educated right here in Vermont, at Vermont Technical College (VTC). VTC has more than a decade of experience providing high quality training for dental hygienists. At the MN School of Dentistry, dental therapists are in fact educated side by side with dental students.
  • The VTC program will meet the Commission on Dental Accreditation standards for dental therapy education programs.
  • Dental therapists will undergo the same blind test and be examined in the same process as dental students.
  • By the time they begin practicing, dental therapists will have as much clinical experience in the procedures they are certified to perform as a dental school graduate.

Q- What type of procedures can dental therapists perform?

  • Dental therapists will work within a narrowly defined scope of practice to provide routine and preventative care, palliative procedures, limited restorative procedures, and extractions of primary teeth.
  • There will be 34 procedures in a dental therapist’s scope of practice, compared to more than 500 for a dentist. Their devotion to this limited area of practice has been shown to make dental therapists particularly effective.
  • A dentist will supervise each licensed dental therapist, affirm their abilities and set their scope of practice through a collaborative management agreement.

Still have questions? Check out the Vermont Oral Health Care for All website for reports, fact sheets and more!