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Taking a Leap of Faith

To better serve the most vulnerable in her community, Christy Jo Fogarty, RDH, ADT, became the first advanced dental therapist in the United States.

Christy Jo Fogarty, RDH, ADT

A licensed dental hygienist for 23 years, Christy Jo Fogarty, RDH, ADT, was the first certified advanced dental therapist in the country. She is a past president of the Minnesota Dental Therapy Association and past president of the American Academy of Dental Therapy. She has testified in several conventions, state legislatures and in front of a Senate commission on behalf of dental therapy.

She recently shared her expertise regarding dental therapy, dental hygiene, and expanding access to care to vulnerable populations with Sunstar Ebrief.

 

  • How did you become interested in dental therapy?

I was working as an independent contractor doing dental hygiene all over the metro and rural areas of Minnesota and was continually seeing dental practices that were either unwilling or unable to offer care to people who were uninsured or had public insurance. I could only do so much as a dental hygienist as I was not allowed to do any restorative work to help these populations. When the opportunity to do more for those most in need in my community, I jumped at the chance. The first class of dental therapists started the program weeks before the legislation passed in our state. We quite literally took a leap of faith.

 

  • How does the implementation of dental therapy help the underserved receive dental care?

By expanding the dental team, dental therapists allow practices to see more patients for restorative care. By requiring dental therapists to serve only in dental shortage areas or see at least 50% public-assistance patients, it expands that care to those most in need in our communities. It also allows everyone in the practice to work to the top of their licenses. For example, dentists who have dental therapists can allow them to do the majority of dental fillings while focusing their practice on crown and implant work that is beyond the scope of practice for dental therapists.

 

  • What is the relationship of dental hygiene to dental therapy?

The majority of dental therapists in Minnesota are dual licensed as both dental hygiene and dental therapy. The two are melded together to offer a provider that is based in prevention and oral education and training with the ability to address decay and infection to reach optimal health for the dental patient. It is not uncommon for me to extract an infected tooth, place a space maintainer, and perform a prophy and sealants in one appointment for a child. In addition, I’m striving to educate patients and parents on how to prevent further decay and future periodontal disease.

 

  • What do you believe are the most important issues facing dental hygiene as a profession?

The biggest problem facing dental hygiene is workforce shortages. People are living longer and keeping their teeth. Both of these are fantastic and a huge tribute to dental hygiene as a profession and the impact we have had on the oral health of our communities. However, more and more clinicians are leaving clinical practice and many are retiring. Replacing those amazing hygienists is a challenge and I am fearful burnout in our profession is becoming a reality. We need to continue to work on outreach to what an amazing profession dental hygiene and dental therapy are and the impact we make in people’s lives every day!

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