OKLAHOMA CITY – Oral health plays a vital role in our overall wellbeing, and yet, many individuals face significant barriers in obtaining adequate dental care, ranging from insurance coverage to distance for receiving care.
I was fortunate to have parents who took me to regular dental appointments, often spending quite a bit, even with insurance. I am also thankful I have a great dentist who keeps me smiling.
Oral health is often not a topic of conversation when addressing critical health needs, but it certainly should be. It is crucial that policymakers address the pressing need for better systems of care and access to dental services. One potential solution to bridge this gap is the
of dental therapists into the Oklahoma oral healthcare system.
Dental therapists are oral healthcare professionals who are trained to perform preventive and basic restorative dental procedures. Working under the supervision of dentists, they provide services such as oral health assessments, oral health education, preventive care (such as cleanings and sealants), and simple restorative procedures (such as filling cavities).
Dental therapists are an integral part of the dental team, complementing the work of dentists and dental hygienists, expanding access to care, particularly for underserved populations. In many Oklahoma communities, there is a shortage of dental providers, leading to long wait times and limited availability.
Dental therapists can provide essential dental care where access is limited, such as rural or low-income communities. Increasing the number of oral healthcare professionals can ensure more individuals receive the care they need, reducing oral health disparities, and improving overall health and wellness.
Another advantage of dental therapists is their potential to improve cost-effectiveness. Dental therapists often can deliver care at a lower cost. This costefficiency is particularly significant for individuals who do not have dental insurance or access to comprehensive dental benefits. Dental therapists can make oral healthcare more affordable and accessible, promoting better overall oral health in the population.
Critics of dental therapy express concerns about the quality and safety of care provided by dental therapists. Dental therapists undergo rigorous education and training programs, which equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver safe and effective care. Additionally, they work closely with supervising dentists who oversee their work and ensure the highest standards of quality.
Studies show dental therapists’ services are complimentary to those provided by dentists in terms of safety and effectiveness, which is a win all-around. To fully realize the potential of dental therapists in improving oral health outcomes, Oklahoma policymakers should consider necessary legislative and regulatory changes to add support services. Dental therapy legislation has successfully been passed in 13 states.
The Oklahoma Oral Health Coalition reports our state ranked with a “D” on our overall grade as compared with other states. By embracing the role of dental therapists, we can take a significant step toward improving access to dental services, reducing oral health disparities, and promoting overall health.
Another means of taking care of children’s teeth is through Sooner-Care, a health coverage program jointly funded by the federal and state government. This program helps pay some or all medical bills for many families who cannot afford them. If you would like to see if your child qualifies for SoonerCare, which includes dental care, go online to myOKplan.org or call 833-465-7526.