Make dentistry cheaper

Can you see what is coming?:

But to the Alaska Dental Society and the American Dental Association, the clinic is a place where the rules of dentistry are flouted daily. The dental groups object not because of any evidence that the clinic provides substandard care, but because it is run by Aurora Johnson, who is not a dentist. After two years of training in a program unique to Alaska, Ms. Johnson performs basic dental work like drilling and filling cavities.

Here is much more.  Get this:

The number of dentists in the United States has been roughly flat since 1990 and is forecast to decline over the next decade. A study last year from the Centers for Disease Control showed that Americans’ dental health was worsening for the first time since statistics began to be kept.

In Alaska, the A.D.A. and the state’s dental society had filed a lawsuit to block the program that trained people like Ms. Johnson, who are called dental therapists. The groups dropped the suit last summer after a state court judge issued a ruling critical of the dentists. But the A.D.A. continues to oppose allowing therapists to operate anywhere in the lower 49 states. Currently, therapists are allowed to practice only in Alaska, and only on Alaska Natives.

The opposition to therapists follows decades of efforts by state dental boards, which are dominated by dentists, to block hygienists from providing care without being supervised by dentists.

The dental associations say they simply want to be sure that patients do not receive substandard care. But some dentists in public health programs contend that dentists in private practice consider therapists low-cost competition. In Alaska, the federally financed program that supplies care to Alaska Natives pays therapists about $60,000 a year, one-half to one-third of what dentists typically earn.

The Alaska program is small, with fewer than a dozen therapists practicing so far. But the early results are promising, according to dental health experts who are studying the program.

As someone who has spent a lot of time at the dentist, I very much like the assistants and I think of the dentist himself as a kind of middle-level manager and salesman.

I thank Greg Rehmke for the pointer.


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