Shortage of dental assistants pushing states to make policy changes

Posted at 1:05 PM, Feb 01, 2023

The American Dental Association is projecting an increase in dentists in the next 20 years, but the number of people in dental assisting programs is expected to decline. Enrollment has been going down since 2015 but the pandemic made it worse and it is expected to continue.

One possible solution that a growing number of states are looking at is having dental therapists help fill these gaps.

Dental therapists must collaborate with a dentist and are authorized to do fewer procedures than dentists but are trained the same on those procedures.

Thirteen states currently authorize dental therapists to practice with others considering it.

Not all dental practices accept public insurance, but most states that have regulations allowing dental therapists require that they have at least some Medicaid focus. Medicaid provides insurance for people with lower incomes.

“The population cohort that is comparatively least in need of dental care receives the most dental care and the population cohort most in need of dental care, receives the least dental care,” said Caswell A. Evans with the National Coalition of Dentists for Health Equity.

One hurdle is expanding access to training for dental therapists.

There's a push by some to get them added to federal dental workforce programs.

The American Dental Association is advocating for money to go toward existing programs for other dental assistants instead, which it says are more cost-effective.

Note: A previous version of this story indicated that the number of dentists are declining.