Dental needs are the highest unmet health need for children and have long-term life consequences. Despite Medicaid coverage of dental care, only a little more than 1/3 of children on Medicaid receive services. The shortage of dentists in a number of areas, compounded by dentists unwillingness to accept Medicaid, accounts for low dental care access. Strategies are needed to improve access to dental care, especially for vulnerable children.
Dental therapy may be an answer. A dental therapist is a mid-level dental provider trained to perform preventive, basic restorative, and some intermediate restorative procedures with varying levels of dentist supervision. Adding dental therapists to a practice can increase access to routine preventive and restorative dental care for patients, especially those traditionally under- or unserved, by providing services at a lower cost and with shorter wait times.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded Westat to develop a plan for evaluating the implementation, outcomes, and economic viability of adding one or more dental therapists to a dental practice.
- Westat developed a plan for evaluating dental therapy programs (PDF format) that can be tailored to the individual program, practice, and community context being evaluated.
- The template aims to help new dental therapy programs incorporate evaluation early in the process of development.
- The plan suggests a set of existing standardized outcome measures to use in each evaluation to build a common base of knowledge that can be easily shared and translated across settings.
- Westat’s plan aims to help new dental therapy programs incorporate evaluation early in the development process.
- Evaluations can provide implementation, outcome, and cost data that inform state legislatures and state dental associations on the value of launching dental therapy programs.
- For individual practices, evaluations provide ongoing feedback on implementation and achievement goals.
- Ultimately, evaluations serve to improve oral health outcomes for the broader community.