Reaching the Underserved
As dental hygienists, we understand the importance of oral health as a component of overall health, and the absolute necessity of professional oral health care services to maintain that health.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 56 million Americans reside in areas with a shortage of dentists.1 This is a staggering number. As dental hygienists, we understand the importance of oral health as a component of overall health, and the absolute necessity of professional oral health care services to maintain that health. With so many in the United States without access to dental care, it is no wonder that the rates of periodontal diseases and other related systemic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are high.2
Americans have long been known for their ingenuity, and the oral health care arena is no different. When faced with an oral health crisis among native populations in Alaska, tribal and health leaders sprang into action, importing the dental therapist model of care from New Zealand. Now that model has evolved not only among native communities but is also expanding into a dental hygienist-based model first implemented in Minnesota. As you will read in this issue of Perspectives on the Midlevel Practitioner, this model continues to gain momentum and acceptance in areas with access-to-care problems across the nation, with good reason. Not only does the introduction of a new member of the dental team provide opportunity for dental hygienists but it is also sure to help the millions of Americans who so desperately need professional oral health care.
- Pew Charitable Trusts. What Are Dental Therapists? Available at: pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2019/10/09/what-are-dental-therapists. Accessed October 19, 2019.
- Frakt A. How dental inequality hurts Americans. Available at: nytimes.com/2018/02/19/upshot/how-dental-inequality-hurts-americans.html. Accessed October 19, 2019.
From Perspectives on the Midlevel Practitioner, a supplement to Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. October 2019;6(11):6.