Collaborative Practice in American Dentistry: Practice and Potential


Elizabeth Mertz, Vanessa Lindler, Catherine Dower

January 1, 2011

As the US seeks to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of the oral health care delivery system – in order to reduce stark disparities in oral health utilization and outcomes that exist in this country – new and innovative models of practice will be necessary. One model includes collaborative practice arrangements between clinicians. These models have long been used in medical and other health care fields, such as between physicians and nurse practitioners delivering primary care. Collaborative practice models can also be found, though less frequently to date, in oral health care settings. This report describes collaborative practice models in medicine and dentistry; presents a typology for the various structural, legal and financial components that are founding such models; and explores the potential for such models to be used more extensively in dental care. As legislatures look to collaborative practice as a way to connect providers within a system of care, issues such as the level of formality of the relationship between providers and each provider’s degree of autonomy deserve careful attention. Collaborative practice models, if carefully structured and implemented, have significant potential for improving access to oral health care, improving care quality and promoting better health outcomes.