CODA approves accreditation process for dental therapy education programs
NEW YORK, N.Y., USA: The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) voted recently to implement the accreditation process for dental therapy education programs. The CODA adopted accreditation standards for dental therapy education programs at its Feb. 6 meeting. Subsequent to that, the CODA requested additional information from communities of interest surrounding criteria 2 and 5 in its Principles and Criteria Eligibility of Allied Dental Programs for Accreditation document:
Criteria 2: Has the allied dental education area been in operation for a sufficient period of time to establish benchmarks and adequately measure performance?
Criteria 5: Is there evidence of need and support from the public and professional communities to sustain educational programs in the discipline?
On Aug. 7 the CODA determined that these criteria had been met and voted to implement the accreditation process for dental therapy education programs. Currently there are two dental therapy education programs in Minnesota.
“The adoption and implementation of dental therapy education standards is a significant milestone,” said American Dental Hygienists’ Association President Jill Rethman, RDH, BA. “These new providers are helping to address unmet oral health needs of the public and create a new career path for dental hygienists.”
ADA, AGD response
The American Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry separately issued statements in news releases in response to the accreditation step by CODA.
ADA: “The ADA believes it is in the best interests of the public that only dentists diagnose dental disease and perform surgical and irreversible procedures.”
AGD: “Over the past three years, we have made it clear through testimony and written comments to CODA that the AGD has opposed the standards and their implementation. The standards require a curriculum of only three years post-high school, and then these nondentists are able to perform surgical and irreversible procedures without requiring the direct or indirect supervision of a dentist.”
The ADA and AGD have repeatedly contested the contention that challenges with populations not receiving adequate oral health care cannot be addressed through expansion of existing programs.
In response to the decision by CODA that criteria 2 and 5 had been met, AGD President W. Mark Donald, DMD, MAGD, said, “Clearly, the required criteria have not been met. Dental therapy educational programs are operational in only two states, and diagnoses and surgical procedures by nondentists are illegal in 48 states. There is an obvious lack of widespread support from public or professional communities for dental therapy programs.”
Highlights in the approved standards
Following are a few highlights from the approved dental therapy standards:
- Program length: The educational program must include at least three academic years of full-time instruction or its equivalent at the postsecondary level.
- Advanced standing: The program may grant credit for prior coursework toward completion of the dental therapy program. This credit may be given to dental assistants, expanded function dental assistants and dental hygienists who are moving into a dental therapy program.
- Supervision: The dental therapist provides care with supervision at a level specified by the state practice act.
- Scope of practice: Dental therapy’s minimal scope of practice is outlined in the standards by listing the competencies required within the dental therapy curriculum. Some of the assessment skills such as evaluation, charting, patient referral and radiographs are listed. Preventive functions include, but are not limited to: subgingival scaling and dental prophylaxis; application of preventive agents; dispensing and administration of non-narcotic medications via oral or topical routes as prescribed by a licensed health-care provider based on state laws. Restorative/surgical procedures include simple extractions of primary teeth, fabrication of temporary crowns, pulp capping, preparation and placement of direct restorations.
- Relation to state statutes: All authorized functions of dental therapists in the state in which they practice must be included in the curriculum at the level, depth and scope required by the state.
- Program director: The dental therapy program director must be a licensed dentist or a licensed dental therapist who possesses a master’s or higher degree and must have a full-time administrative appointment as defined by the institution.
You can learn more about the dental-therapy standards for accreditation online via www.adha.org/resources-docs/CODA_Accreditation_Standards.pdf.
(Sources: ADHA, ADA, AGD)