Community Catalyst, National Indian Health Board Launch National Partnership to Increase Access to Dental Care Across the U.S.


(WASHINGTON, D.C.)After 15 years of practice in the United States, dental therapists are expanding access to oral health care in a number of states where they practice as part of dental teams. Despite the documented success, the majority of people in the U.S. cannot get care from these dental professionals.

Community Catalyst and the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) are launching the National Partnership for Dental Therapy to accelerate the authorization of dental therapists nationwide so that people can get care where and when they need it, in their own communities.

“Everyone, including the most vulnerable in our country and those in hard-to-reach areas, should have the opportunity to get basic oral health care,” said Tera Bianchi, program director of Community Catalyst’s Dental Therapist Project. “While dental therapists can practice in eight states, the remainder of the country is still battling an epidemic of untreated tooth decay with a dental delivery system that is broken. Dental therapists can help change that.”

The newly formed National Partnership for Dental Therapy comprises community leaders, consumers, advocates, educators, providers and public health champions.

“The current system is inadequate and has led to significant oral health disparities for American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Stacy A. Bohlen, Chief Executive Officer of the National Indian Health Board. “Half of all American Indians and Alaska Natives live in dental shortage areas where they can go months and sometimes years without needed treatment. Dental therapists can prevent this from happening. For years Tribes have used their sovereign rights to utilize this innovative provider model, and this partnership stands with them.”

The National Partnership will work to elevate the visibility and broad support for dental therapy programs. It will actively share accurate, evidence-based information about the profession as it evolves and serve as a forum for supporters to share information and connect with each other to continue to grow the profession.

Since starting practice in Alaska in 2004, dental therapists have expanded care to more than 45,000 people who couldn’t get care before. For the first time in decades, schools are reporting elementary classes where all the students are cavity-free. In Minnesota, dental therapists have dramatically increased the number of low-income children who receive dental care. Dental therapists in Minnesota are providing services in community and rural settings at more than 370 mobile dental sites throughout the state including in schools, Head Start programs, community centers, VA facilities and nursing homes. Dental therapists are now also authorized to practice in some capacity in Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Just last week, a blue-ribbon panel of experts issued a report that included model legislation to serve as a guide to the growing number of states now considering dental therapy as a proven solution to expanding access to much-needed dental care. The 15-member panel includes experts representing dental schools, state dental boards, practicing dentists, dental hygiene educators, and state government and tribal leaders.

The model legislation recommends standards for the dental therapy profession that are based on research on quality, safety and impact on access to care.  It also embodies standards for dental therapy education programs adopted in 2015 by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). It is designed to help states pass evidence-based laws to ensure dental therapists in all states can deliver quality, team-based care without facing unnecessary restrictions and regulations that drive up the cost of education and dental care, or hamper their ability to improve access to dental care.

Dental therapists are licensed dental practitioners that work as part of a dentist-led team, similar to the way a physician’s assistant works on the medical team. They provide common dental procedures including filling cavities. While some work in office settings, their biggest impact has been bringing care to patients in schools, nursing homes, community health centers, rural care clinics, and in tribal communities.


About Community Catalyst
Community Catalyst is a national, non-profit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1998 with the belief that affordable quality health care should be accessible to everyone. We work in partnership with national, state and local organizations, policymakers, and philanthropic foundations to ensure consumer interests are represented wherever important decisions about health and the health system are made: in communities, statehouses and on Capitol Hill. Headquartered in Boston, Community Catalyst has offices in Washington, DC, Atlanta, New York, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @HealthPolicyHub.

About the National Indian Health Board
One Voice affirming and empowering American Indian and Alaska Native peoples to protect and improve health and reduce health disparities. Headquartered in Washington, DC. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @NIHB1.


Jack Cardinal
(617) 275-2923