BOSTONCommunity Catalyst announced today the formation of a panel of academic experts to develop a set of evidence-based, national education standards for programs that educate dental therapists in the United States. As more states consider expanding the dental workforce with alternative dental providers, supporters of these providers and the dental education community are calling for standards to guide the development of new programs. The work of the panel will build on curriculum guidelines for dental therapist education established by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry in 2010.

Dr. Dominick DePaola, Associate Dean at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine, is serving as the chairman of the Dental Therapy Program Education Standards Advisory Panel that is charged with developing the standards.  He is joined by other leaders with expertise in dental education and the practice of dental therapists. *(a full list of panel members is attached).

The recommendations established by the panel will build upon research and best practices derived from existing dental therapist education and practice programs in the United States and other countries. It will also incorporate recent work of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, which developed and recommended a model curriculum that could be used by institutions that are considering establishing dental therapist education programs.

Dental therapists serve as members of a dental team.  They work under the supervision of a dentist in a collaborative way to extend the reach of the oral health care team. Dental therapists have been practicing in Alaska since 2006 and in Minnesota for approximately a year, with education programs in both states, but there are currently no recognized national education standards or accreditation programs for educational programs.

“Without a set of common principles and standards, the field of dental therapy will develop differently across the country,” Dr. DePaola said. “Defining these standards ensures that there will be a common foundation for various states and tribal nations looking to add dental therapists to their workforce in the future.”

With growing numbers of people seeking treatment for dental problems in emergency rooms, and continued access problems, oral health coalitions, Native American tribal organizations, policymakers and dental leaders are exploring options to expand the reach of the dental team.  Half a dozen states have put forward legislation seeking to establish dental therapists; other states, coalitions and tribes are pursuing pilot projects studying the feasibility of adding dental therapists to the dental team, and multiple other states are seeking and sharing information on the option. 

“There is an overwhelming amount of untreated tooth decay in underserved communities, with rapidly increasing numbers of people who can’t get needed dental care,” according to Dr. Albert Yee of Community Catalyst. “Now is the time to expand the dental workforce who can offer routine, preventive care to families in need. Developing education standards for dental therapist programs will support the growing number of efforts in states, tribal nations and organizations striving to make this happen.”

The panel held its initial meeting in Minneapolis, MN on December 9 – 10, 2012 and plans to complete their recommendations for the dental therapy program education standards in the spring of 2013.  The panel’s work will be made available to those interested in promoting and developing dental therapist education programs.  Community Catalyst, with the assistance of the LPaC Alliance, is organizing and supporting the work of the panel.  The effort is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Community Catalyst is a national non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to quality affordable health care for all. Community Catalyst works in partnership with national, state and local organizations, policymakers, and foundations, providing leadership and support to improve the health of communities and to transform the health care system so it serves everyone.

The LPaC Alliance is a law, policy and consulting firm based in Minnesota with extensive experience working to establish dental therapists in the state.


* Ruth Ballweg, MPA, PA-C , Associate Professor and Section Chief, MEDEX Northwest PA Section, Dept. of Family Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Darren Berg, Dental Therapist, North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada

Colleen Brickle, RDH, RF, EdD, Dean of Health Sciences, Normandale Community College, Bloomington, MN

Dominick DePaola, DDS, PhD,  Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Nova Southeastern University, College of Dental Medicine, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Caswell Evans, DDS, MPH, Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry, Chicago, IL

William Hendricson, MS, MA, Assistant Dean, Education, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School, San Antonio, TX

Frank Licari, DDS, MPH, MBA, Professor and Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Illinois, Downers Grove, IL

Karl Self, DDS, MBA, Clinical Associate Professor, Director, Division of Dental Therapy, Department of Primary Dental Care, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, Minneapolis, MN

Mary Williard, DDS, Dental Health Aide Therapist Education Director, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Division of Community Health Services, Anchorage, AK

Karen Yoder, PhD, MSD, Director, Civic Engagement and Health Policy, Professor of Preventive and Community Dentistry, Indiana University School of Dentistry, Indianapolis, IN