The American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD) recently published a compelling series of papers that established curriculum guidelines for the training of a new workforce model, dental therapists.
AAPHD is the nation’s largest membership organization of dentists, dental hygienists and others committing to improving the oral health of the public. It believes that adding dental therapists as members of the dental team may help meet growing U.S. oral health needs, particularly among underserved populations. The papers are the work of an academic panel whose 11 members were selected for their expertise, experience and in-depth knowledge of dental education.
For New Mexico, one of the states that is pursuing the dental therapist model, this means we have a template on which to build an education program that would produce quality dental providers who can meet the needs of our remote and underserved population.
This compelling series of papers also includes the following:
- Principles on which a dental therapy program should be based;
- Recommended length of training programs;
- Competencies required for graduates; and
- General curriculum content of such programs.
The proposed model curriculum is based on a two-year, post-secondary training program. The panel reviewed the course of study for dental therapists in programs already in the United States (Minnesota and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium/University of Washington program) and throughout the world. The dental therapist designation is a professional, accredited position in 55 countries.
The entire collection of papers is available online and will be published in a special issue, June 2011 issue of peer-reviewed Journal of Public Health Dentistry.
In a guest editorial introduction to the special issue, panel convener Caswell Evans Jr., DDS, MPH, Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, noted that the absence of a nationally recognized program of study for dental therapists could result in a “patchwork of responsibilities and varying scopes of practice for dental therapists that could lead to confusion by the public.”
The panel’s proposed curriculum should help to answer questions about the training and education for dental therapists and will likely become a model for other states, including New Mexico.
In addition, AAPHD President Diane Brunson, RDH, MPH, said that the recommendations will help establish “a career path for entering the profession to best serve the oral health needs of all populations.”
“We believe that the expert panel recommendations, used as a model to build on, will assure that curricula from school to school and state to state are consistent, of high quality and will pave the way for national accrediting,” she added.