In New Mexico, we do not have a dental school. The University of New Mexico has a dental hygiene program which awards both bachelors and masters degrees in dental hygiene. There are 59 dental schools in the United States. Some states like California have 6; NY has 4. The remaining 57 states have between 1-3 schools. Twelve other states (NM included) lack dental schools. Therefore, if you live in a state like Delaware or Alaska-you will need to go elsewhere to pursue a dental education to acquire your Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.
I find these numbers somewhat disconcerting due to the fact that there are so many rural towns and communities in America where folks do not have access to dental care. States such as New Mexico have proposed the idea of utilizing dental therapists to go into such areas to provide dental care. In the last legislative session here in NM, the State Senate tabled the bill even after the House passed the vote for dental therapists. At the present time, only 2 states, Alaska and Minnesota, allow dental therapists to render a wide variety of dental services. These services not only include the taking of X-rays but such functions as:
- applying fluoride varnishes and sealants
- administering local anesthetics and nitrous oxide
- restoring primary and permanent teeth
- re-cementing of permanent crowns
It must be pointed out that these therapists are not dental hygienists who have a totally different function.
So what is the point of all of this? How do folks get the dental care and services they need if doctoral-level dental education is not available in a particular state? Or a given state will not permit dental therapists to practice. For those states that do not have a dental school, state dental associations should work with legislators and university administrations to explore the funding for such an institution. Opportunities to provide financial incentives for graduates that if they elect to practice in a rural or underserved area for x number of years, their loans will be either be partially or paid off in full. The other options are for legislative bodies to consider the passage of dental therapists in additional states where dental care provision is markedly substandard.
Outside of the United States, both Australia and New Zealand-both Oral Health Therapists (combination dental hygienist and dental therapist) and Dental Therapists, respectively, have been trained and serve the populations of those two areas.
Prosthodontics-the art and science of providing replacements for lost or missing teeth such as implants or dentures.
Caries-another word for cavities or tooth decay.