APHA policy, as well as the majority of people at the oral health session yesterday, supports the Alaska Dental Health Aide Therapist program and other outside-the-box solutions to the continuing access to oral health care crisis in the United States. The American Dental Association initially opposed the creation of the dental therapist program, which takes members of Alaska Native tribes and trains them on providing oral health services in communities where oral health services can be a plane ride away.
Now the House version of the federal health reform bill includes a provision forbidding the Indian Health Service from setting up the dental health therapist program anywhere but Alaska. Huh?
The continued opposition to “unsupervised” dental health work force members, be they dental hygienists or dental health therapists or others with oral health training, “is neither evidence-based nor good for public health,” said Scott Tomar, president of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry and a University of Florida professor (go Gators!).
Tankersley, who did get a round of applause and even a hug after being grilled by session audience members, said the American Dental Association understands “that by having allied personnel do more, everyone would be more effective.”
“The ADA takes a lot of hits because we tend not to be nimble enough,” Tankersley said. “We are cautious, I admit.”
The session, by the way, was centered on an Institute of Medicine Oral Health Workforce Report released in August that calls for innovative solutions to the oral health access problem. As with many issues, “we really are short on data that helps us make good policy decisions,” said Marcia K. Brand, deputy administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, which now is funding an oral health study.
“There is no doubt that we’ve got to collaborate,” Brand said. “It’s going to take everyone to increase access.”