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December 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Dental therapy to increase access

Status quo is not working
The Washington State Dental Association agrees that lack of access to oral health care is a problem in Washington and that a “supervised dental extender” could be a solution ["Dental therapists aren't the right fit," Opinion, Nov. 29]. That’s exactly what a dental therapist is.

Dental therapists bring commonly needed, routine services that relieve pain and suffering and prevent oral disease from getting worse. They work as part of a team, under the regular supervision of an off-site dentist, so that more patients can get care.

Recently I traveled to Alaska and dental therapists there are bringing high-quality dental care to tens of thousands of people who were going without it, preventing costly emergencies and unnecessary pain and suffering.

By the time they are ready to practice, dental therapists have as many hours of field experience in a limited number of procedures as a dental-school graduate has. These hours prepare them, quickly, to provide safe care to kids and families who need it.

As things stand, too many children, parents, seniors, people with disabilities and those living in rural and tribal communities are suffering because they can’t get dental care. The status quo is not working. We need to modernize our dental-care system and bring midlevel dental providers to Washington.

—John Stephens, LaConner

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