Dental Therapists in the United States: Health Equity, Advancing


Elizabeth Mertz, Aubri Kottek, Miranda Werts, Margaret Langelier, Simona Surdu, and Jean Moore

Oct 2021

Dental therapists (DTs) are primary care dental providers, used globally, and were introduced in the United States (US) in 2005. DTs have now been adopted in 13 states and several Tribal nations. This study aimed to qualitatively examine the drivers and outcomes of the US dental therapy movement through a health equity lens, including community engagement, implementation and dissemination, and access to oral health care. They found that health equity is a driving force for dental therapy adoption. Community engagement has been evident in diverse statewide coalitions. National accreditation standards for education programs that can be deployed in three years without an advanced degree reduces educational barriers for improving workforce diversity. Safe, high-quality care, improvements in access, and patient acceptability have been well documented for DTs in practice. Having firmly taken root politically, the impact of the dental therapy movement in the US, and the long-term health impacts, will depend on the path of implementation and a sustained commitment to the health equity principle.