Welcome mid-level dental therapists

Nurse practitioners were the first into the “mid-level” medicine breach, followed soon thereafter by physician assistants.  Then certified nurse midwives (CNMs) and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) joined our alphabet soup.  And now a new group of clinicians may be entering our health care netherworld:  Welcome the mid-level dental provider!

History would predict some fervent upcoming debate about the safety and utility of non-dentist providers on the part of dentists, payers, patients, public health officials and the mid-levels themselves.  (For an excellent history of NPs, I recommend Julie Fairman's engrossing and comprehensive Making Room in the Clinic)

As data emerges about dental therapists' safe ability to practice, let's make sure to support this new group of providers in their inevitable battles.  Evidence supporting the importance of oral health to general wellness keeps getting stronger, but provider shortages and high costs continue to stand in many patients' way of accessing prompt and reliable dental care.

Plus, maybe these new so-called mid-levels can also help us come up with a less irritating term.

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