Dental Tribune USA

Oral Health America pushes to expand dental hygiene services

By Dental Tribune America
February 12, 2014

NEW YORK, N.Y., USA: Oral Health America (OHA) recently issued a recommendation that supports the expansion of oral health services through the utilization of dental hygienists and dental therapists, a recommendation strongly supported by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). The recommendation comes from “A State of Decay,” an OHA report on the oral health of older Americans.

The report is a state-by-state analysis of oral health care delivery and public health factors that affect the oral health of older adults. Among its findings is that more than half of the country received a “fair” or “poor” assessment when it came to meeting the minimal standards affecting dental care access for older adults.

“A State of Decay” highlights both public health and health care delivery factors affecting the oral health of older adults. The methodology for determining each state’s total score was based on a formula that weighted a number of selected factors contributing to older adult oral health. Those factors are state oral health plans, edentulism, community water fluoridation and dental health professional shortage areas. Specifically regarding these shortage areas, the ADHA supports OHA’s recommendation to mitigate such shortages by improving the primary health care workforce through the expansion of the services provided by dental hygienists and dental therapists.

Minnesota, which ranked highest of all states surveyed in providing dental care access for older adults, is the first state in the nation to approve the licensing of a mid-level oral health care provider, known in Minnesota as an Advanced Dental Therapist (ADT). The ADT is dually licensed as a dental hygienist and an ADT. Their education and training allow them to perform such duties as filling cavities and extracting teeth. Policymakers in other states, such as Washington and Maine, are viewing Minnesota’s law as one of several potential solutions to the lack of access to dental care for millions of Americans, particularly the poor and uninsured.

“Using the dental hygiene workforce in a manner that allows dental hygienists to work with flexibility and up to the level they are educated will help to open the doors of access for many. Patients will benefit from a provider who can deliver both the preventive scope of a dental hygienist and the focused restorative scope of an advanced dental therapist,” said ADHA President Denise Bowers, RDH, PhD.

In conjunction with the report release, OHA launched a new online resource, www.toothwisdom.org. A first-of-its-kind website focusing on older adults and oral health, the site connects older adults and their caregivers to local care and education about the oral health issues they face, the importance of continuing prevention as we age and the impact of oral health on overall health. ADHA is a sponsor and partner with Special Care Dentistry Association and OHA in the efforts to address the issues facing older adults and oral health.

(Sources: ADHA, Oral Health America)

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