Forum Session

The Oral Health Workforce: Working Together to Improve Access to Care?
April 10, 2015


Jennifer Jenson, MPH, MPP


Access to dental care is a function of many factors, including insurance coverage, oral health literacy, and the supply of providers who are willing to serve patients. Most oral health care is provided by dentists in private offices, but according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are almost 5,000 dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. One strategy for improving access to care is the use of alternative workforce models that allow allied dental professionals to provide a broader range of services under specified conditions. This strategy includes permitting both new and existing provider types to practice to the full extent of their training, with more autonomy, in a variety of practice settings. The approach is controversial because it would shift some care from dentists to providers with less training. This Forum session considered access to oral health care in the United States, with an emphasis on issues related to the dental workforce, including regulatory and cultural factors that affect providers' scope of practice and, ultimately, patients' access to care. The program also touched on other strategies for improving access, including integrating oral health and primary care, and implementing policies and programs that encourage practitioners to care for underserved populations.


Beth Mertz, PhD, MA (bio)
Assistant Professor, Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences, School of Dentistry, University of California, San Francisco

Leon A. Assael, DMD (bio)
Dean, School of Dentistry, University of Minnesota

Sarah Wovcha, JD, MPH (bio)
Executive Director, Children’s Dental Services

Renée W. Joskow, DDS, MPH, FAGD (bio)
Captain, U.S. Public Health Service
Senior Dental Advisor, Health Resources and Services Administration

Related Materials

The Pew Charitable Trusts published two reports in 2014 on dental team expansions. The February report studied two private practices; the June report studied the use of mid-level providers to expand access to care in public settings.

See also the Minnesota Department of Health's February 2014 report that took an early assessment of the effects of using dental therapists in their state.

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