The Role of Dental Therapists in Minimally Invasive Care

  | By Izzy Litwack & Kasey Wilson, Sr. Policy Analysts, Community Catalyst
The Role of Dental Therapists in Minimally Invasive Care

In recent years, the field of dentistry has seen  increased interest in the practice of minimally invasive care (MIC). This approach prioritizes the preservation of teeth through nonsurgical services, emphasizes prevention, and uses techniques that are less traumatic for patients. MIC can help treat oral health problems early, before more invasive, painful, and costly care is needed. It also allows patients to have a choice in the care they receive, improving patient experience and interrupting implicit bias. By nature of its nonsurgical approach, MIC can be provided in a variety of settings, including dental clinics, primary care offices, and community settings like schools or nursing homes and by many members of the dental team, including dental therapists.  

Dental therapists are well-equipped to perform MIC – in states where they are authorized, dental therapists’ scope includes a variety of MIC services, including application of fluoride and other topical medicationsBecause they are trained to work in community settings, dental therapists are also well-suited to perform MIC services and reach people in their communities before more invasive care is needed. Dental therapists are more likely than other dental providers to represent the language and culture of the communities they serve, enabling them to build a high level of trust, which is a key component of effective MIC. 

While MIC services are a critical part of holistic dental care, traditional dental services – like drilling and filling cavities and pulling teeth – are also sometimes necessary and should be available to people when they need them. Additionally, some people may prefer more invasive approaches for a variety of reasons. Whether MIC services or otherwise, all people should have access to the full range of dental services when they need them from a provider they trust.     

While dental therapists play a crucial role in the provision of MIC, relegating these practices to one single provider-type underestimates the potential of the entire dental team. An integrated model, where all oral health providers are equipped to offer MIC, ensures a comprehensive and unified approach to dental care. This model not only elevates the standard of care for patients, but also optimizes the use of the diverse skills within the dental profession. In the face of provider shortages, it is more important than ever to embrace this inclusive approach, ensuring that every member of the dental team is empowered to contribute fully to the health and well-being of the patients they serve. 

More information on how MIC can support an expanded oral health workforce, including the role of dental therapists, is available in a new Center for Health Care Strategies report, Emerging Approaches in Oral Health Care: Considerations for Minimally Invasive Care in Medicaid.