April 11, 2022
Group seeks to ensure states have access to federal grants for dental therapy programs in FY2023
April 11, 2022 (BOSTON, MA) — CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, a leading national nonprofit focused on creating a more accessible, equitable, and integrated oral health system, joined a nonpartisan group of organizations urging Congress to lift a federal funding ban that prohibits states and Tribal communities from accessing health workforce grants for dental therapy programs. The group, which includes more than 90 organizations, sent a letter to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees asking for the elimination of this funding ban in the FY2023 appropriations bills.
Dental therapists are licensed providers who work under the supervision of a dentist to provide routine dental care like exams and fillings and can help expand access to oral health care, especially in rural communities. Their employment cost is lower than dentists, so hiring dental therapists can be a cost-effective way for safety-net clinics to stretch their budget to treat more patients. Congress recognized the opportunity to improve access to care through the expanded use of dental therapists when it created a federal grant program in 2010 to support training and development of dental providers like dental therapists. Unfortunately, this grant program has never been funded because Congress continues to pass appropriations language that prohibits the Health Resources and Services Administration from doing so.
“Congress recognized the opportunity to expand access to dental care through dental therapists more than 10 years ago. Lifting the funding ban on dental therapy programs would allow states and Tribes to pilot and scale these programs to increase access to oral health for communities that face the highest barriers to it,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. “Amid ongoing health care workforce shortages, we are joining the call to Congress to authorize this funding so communities can access the critical resources they need to expand their dental workforce.”
Oral health is one of the most visible causes of health disparities in America, and good oral health remains out of reach for many low-income families, communities of color, Tribal communities, and rural communities. Research from Minnesota published in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that expanding the dental workforce to include dental therapists shows associated improvements in access to dental care among disadvantaged populations.
Across the country, more and more states are authorizing the licensure of dental therapists to ensure that every community has access to dental care. Support for expanding the dental workforce to include dental therapists is diverse and bipartisan. Dental therapists are working or authorized in at least some settings in 12 states and have had a positive impact on the communities they serve. Seven more states have had legislation introduced in the last year to authorize them. However, many of these states lack the federal support they need to further expand their oral health workforce through dental therapy.
The coalition is also asking Congress to fully fund the alternative dental health care provider demonstration grant program, which supports dental therapy. Specifically, they are asking for at least $5 million in funding to be allocated to the grant program to allow states to take advantage of this critical resource.
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