This dynamic session focused on the growing interest in adding a new oral health professional to the dental workforce and reported on the educational plan recommended by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD). The report of this panel will be released in April in the American Journal of Dental Public Health.
The AAPHD was charged with the task of outlining a proposed two-year curriculum for dental therapist programs. The project was funded by the W.K. Kellogg and Josiah Macy, Jr. foundations. Dr. Caswell A. Evans moderated this well-attended session, which was comprised of panelists David Chambers, Ed.M., M.B.A., Ph.D.; Frank Licari, D.D.S., M.P.H., M.B.A.; and Dominick DePaola, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Major tasks involved in the project included considerations concerning location and placement of educational programs, the career path implications of the curriculum, and accreditation standards. The project was intended to stimulate consideration and illuminate the issues regarding potential curriculum for dental therapists.
The panelists foresee dental therapists working in underserved areas, working under the general supervision of a dentist, and being part of the dental team. The panelists wanted to develop a program that would increase oral health workforce diversity, capacity, and flexibility.
Some anticipated challenges include training dentists to instruct and supervise the therapists, as well as redefining general supervision in the context of digital communication and visualization systems.
Some of the preliminary steps involved in developing the curriculum included reflecting upon where curriculum might be placed given options within the educational system, addressing the pathways by which others in the health services workforce can articulate their credentials with this training, and looking at accreditation issues that accompany this curriculum.
Dr. David Chambers, along with his colleagues Drs. Victor Sandoval and Norman Tinanoff, focused on the competencies required by dental therapists, such as skills, understanding, and values. Drs. Chambers, Sandoval, and Tinanoff worked to define the optimal scope of practice for the new oral health professional and define graduation requirements for the ideal educational program for dental therapists. Their goal was to provide a template for designing curricula to train dental therapists who might perform a plausible set of skills in various settings that are currently under discussion.
Dr. Frank Licari explained that the proposed curriculum was designed to be completed in 24 months (six trimesters or eight quarters), according to the guidelines from the W.K. Kellogg and Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundations. The curriculum is intended to fit a variety of educational settings and be consistent with the curriculum level of a dental hygiene program, including clinical and lab experience.
Dr. Dominick DePaola described phase II of the project, which is to develop career pathways for entry of other alternative dental providers into the dental therapist workforce model. Some future goals include exploring how currently trained dental hygienists can obtain the skills of dental therapists and how dental therapists can gain skills to provide dental hygiene services, along with examining the advanced possibilities of enrolling in baccalaureate programs. Dr. DePaola discussed some of the advantages to dual training, such as the ability to offer a broader range of services and maximize services in locations of need. The dental therapy curriculum provides for alternative career pathways for dental hygienists, international dentists, and Expanded Functions Dental Assistants (EFDA).
The session concluded with a lively discussion which included questions about the specifics of courses, the role of the therapist as an extension of the dentist, how this workforce model will impact gender and ethnic diversity in the dental profession, implications regarding recruitment and admissions requirements, and existing programs such as the University of Washington’s program for Alaska and the inaugural graduating class from the University of Minnesota.
The panelists again emphasized that this session is a starting point and platform. Around the first week of June, AAPHD will have the complete report available on its website, www.aaphd.org.