Comparison of Dental Care Visits Before and After Adoption of a Policy to Expand the Dental Workforce in Minnesota


Hawazin W. Elani, PhD, and Elizabeth Mertz, PhD, Ichiro Kawachi, PhD

March 18, 2022

Adding new types of clinicians is often a policy strategy to address clinician shortages and enhance access to health care. In oral health, several states have sought to expand the dental workforce to include dental therapists, which are primary dental care providers who can evaluate and treat basic dental conditions under the supervision of a dentist. The aim of adding dental therapists to the dental team is to improve the affordability of dental care to expand access for underserved populations, particularly low-income and uninsured individuals in rural and tribal areas. This article assesses the changes in dental care use in Minnesota after the implementation of the policy to authorize dental therapists in 2009.

Is expansion of the dental workforce by authorizing dental therapists in Minnesota associated with increased dental care use? In this cross-sectional study of 2,613,716 adults, authorizing dental therapists was associated with an increase in dental care use among low-income adults. In subgroup analysis, authorizing dental therapists was associated with an increase in dental visits for White adults, but no significant change in use was detected for other racial and ethnic groups. Ultimately, expanding the dental workforce in Minnesota by authorizing dental therapists was associated with improved dental care use, particularly among low-income adults; however, racial and ethnic disparities in dental use persist.