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North Dakota can learn from MN’s dental therapist licensing experience

As North Dakota debates whether to license dental therapists — “dentistry’s physician assistants,” mid-level professionals who can fill cavities and do certain extractions and crowns — it can learn from Minnesota’s experience.

Minnesota, after all, is the first state to license dental therapists. The law passed in 2009, and the first graduates from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s program got their degrees in 2011.

Now, it’s 2014. And in preparation for this year’s legislative session, the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and the Minnesota Board of Health prepared a report.

The verdict:

“The dental therapy workforce is growing and appears to be fulfilling statutory intent by serving predominantly low-income, uninsured and underserved patients,” concludes the report, which is titled, “Early impacts of dental therapists in Minnesota.”

A few more of the report’s conclusions:

“Dental therapists appear to be practicing safely, and clinics report improved quality and high patient satisfaction with dental therapist services.

“To date, no safety complaints have been made or Board actions taken against dental therapists.”

“Clinics employing dental therapists are seeing more new patients than before the arrival of the dental therapists, and most of the patients are enrolled in public programs or otherwise underserved.”

“Benefits attributable to dental therapists include direct costs savings, increased dental team productivity, improved patient satisfaction and lower appointment-fail rates.

“Clinics also report higher quality, with better team communication and specialization of roles.”

“Savings from the lower costs of employing dental therapists are making it possible for clinics to expand capacity to see public programs and underserved patients.”

“Dental therapists’ ability to perform routine procedures is freeing up dentists’ time for complex procedures … Most clinics employing dental therapists for at least a year are considering hiring additional dental therapists.”

In April, Maine became the third state (after Minnesota and Alaska) to license dental therapists. Other states also are thinking about making the change.

And considering Minnesota’s experience, it’s easy to see why. — Grand Forks Herald