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Dental therapists fill the care gap

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Dental therapists, a new type of dental-care practitioner, are providing critical dental services for those in need of dental care in Minnesota. USA Today reports that Minnesota is the only state in the nation that licenses dental therapists. The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry's Dental Therapy program graduated a second class earlier this month. Other states are expected to follow.

Dental therapists provide preventive and restorative services under the supervision of a dentist. While dentists spend 4 years earning their degrees, dental therapists spend 2½-years and can expect to earn about half what a dentist does. Dental therapists liken themselves to the dental office equivalent of the physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.

Many dental therapists expect to serve people on medical assistance or without dental insurance as well as helping to fill the gap with other unmet dental health needs.

The American Dental Association opposes dental therapists, saying there is no lack of providers and no evidence that the new position will have an impact on the barriers that prevent people from getting oral health care.

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