Training new dental health providers in the United States


  • Burton L. Edelstein DDS, MPH

    Corresponding author
    1. Section of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine
    2. Children's Dental Health Project
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Dr. Burton L. Edelstein, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, 630 West 168th Street Box 20, New York, NY 10032. Tel.: 212-342-3505; Fax: 413-677-4286; e-mail: Burton L. Edelstein is with Columbia University and the Children's Dental Health Project.


Objectives: Introduction of dental therapists in the United States involves a wide range of issues including permissive governmental policymaking; determinations of their education, supervision, and deployment; their acceptance by dentists and the public; financing of their services; and, most fundamentally, their training. This contribution re-releases and updates the executive summary of an extensive report comparing therapists' training across five industrialized countries and comparing therapists' training to that of conventional U.S. dental providers.

Methods: Literature reviews, web searches, key informant interviews, and program document reviews.

Results: Internationally, three-year training programs that dually qualify trainees as hygienists and therapists dominate. There are marked differences between non-US and US-based therapist training programs and between US-based programs. Reported goals of establishing dental therapists include expanding the availability of basic dental services to underserved disadvantaged subpopulations; potentially reducing costs of basic care; and enhancing the roles of dentists in providing the most sophisticated care, serving the most complex patients, and managing an expanded dental team. Criteria for establishing training programs include program length, supervisory arrangements, recruitment and incentives, deployment, educational costs, curriculum, oversight, and accreditation.

Conclusion: International experiences can well inform US policy on training of dental therapists.