State Update

Panel Develops Education Standards for Dental Therapists

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On October 30, a panel of academic leaders in dental and medical education released a report titled Recommended Standards for Dental Therapy Education Programs in the United States. The document provides a set of national standards for education programs that train dental therapists in the United States. The panel began developing these standards in December 2012.

The panel determined that it would build upon work completed in 2010 by a group convened by the American Academy of Public Health Dentistry and published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, which recommended a dental therapy education curriculum and competencies.

The panel's primary recommendations include the following (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Dental therapists should be trained to practice under the supervision of a dentist and to work collaboratively as part of a dental care team.
  • Dental therapy curricula must include at least two calendar years of full-time instruction or its equivalent at the post-secondary level, and graduates must receive an associate degree. If a student is to be jointly trained in dental therapy and dental hygiene, the curriculum must include at least three years of full-time instruction or its equivalent.
  • Graduates from dental therapy programs must be able to competently provide care within a scope of practice that includes assessing patients' oral health needs, providing preventive care and treatment for basic oral health problems, and recognizing and managing complications, while adhering to all recognized community and professional standards.
  • Dental therapy education program leaders must be qualified to administer the program but do not need to be dentists. However, if a program is not dentist-led it must employ a dental director—a licensed dentist who is continually involved in the program.

In addition, the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) has released proposed accreditation standards for dental therapists and called for public comment by December 1, 2013. To view the proposed CODA standards, click here.