Letter: Give dentists the option to hire therapists

Millions of people across this country can’t get the dental care they need, which means their health and well-being suffer.

To address this crisis in my home state of Minnesota, we embraced a solution being considered by a growing number of states, including Michigan. We changed the law to allow dentists in our state to hire dental therapists. Akin to the physician assistant on the medical team, dental therapists do preventative and routine restorative procedures like filling cavities. As a result, many people in Minnesota are now getting quality care that was previously out of reach.

Larry DeGroat’s July 30 column, “Don’t send a therapist to do a dentist’s job,” claims the Minnesota program “hasn’t proved to be successful,” which is simply not the case.

As a member and past president of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, my colleagues from the Minnesota Department of Health along with the Board of Dentistry were charged by our legislature to produce a report on the practice of dental therapy in 2014. Based on our very initial results, we clearly found that the new professional was off to an excellent start and on track to achieve its desired goals. As required by our law, we found that clinics—both urban and rural—that hired dental therapists were seeing more patients who were uninsured or on public insurance. They were able to do so while also improving patient satisfaction, reducing personnel costs and increasing productivity to the entire dental team.

DeGroat goes on to claim that “only seven dental therapists have gone into rural areas.” It’s very unclear on where that statistic came from, as 43 percent of current licensees practice in rural areas of Minnesota. It appears DeGroat either hasn’t read the extensive evaluation of dental therapy in Minnesota, is denying the facts, or is using scare tactics to oppose efforts to provide another solution to a known problem.

In Michigan, real steps are being taken to help address your state’s dental care crisis. A bill introduced by Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would give dentists the option to hire dental therapists. This bill would help ensure there are more properly trained and licensed professionals to provide routine dental care to those who are falling through the cracks of the dental delivery system.

David Gesko, senior vice president