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Continued: New Horizon In Dental Care

  • Article by: NANCY CROTTI , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Last update: June 24, 2009 - 3:37 PM

After much legislative wrangling, Minnesota is poised to join parts of Alaska and 50 countries around the world in producing midlevel dental practitioners to work with underserved populations.

State legislators have agreed that graduates of programs to be offered by the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry (www.dentistry.umn.edu) and Metropolitan State University (www.metrostate.edu/cnhs) will be licensed to provide a subset of dental services until now provided only by a licensed dentist. Services include drilling and filling of teeth for children and adults, and extractions of primary, or baby teeth. These services would be provided to patients who would otherwise not receive adequate dental care due to their income or their inability to access services.

Choices For Prospective Students

Each institution plans to accept students for September 2009 and is targeting a different group of students. Only registered dental hygienists who have 2,400 clinical hours beyond their bachelor's degree may apply to the master's level program at Metropolitan State, according to Suzanne Beatty, DDS, who teaches there and at Normandale Community College (www.normandale.edu), where students will do laboratory and clinical work.

The 44-credit Metropolitan State curriculum will take about two and a half years to complete. "All of the dental competency-based courses will be taught by dentists," Beatty says. "We already have a community clinic at Normandale on Thursday nights where we see underserved populations. We're trying to use our clinical facilities to the best of our abilities."

The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry will offer baccalaureate and master's programs in dental therapy. Graduates of each will receive the same license and perform the same procedures, but the master's candidates will have electives in leadership, public health and education, according to Judith Buchanan, PhD, DMD, associate dean for academic affairs at the university's School of Dentistry. The bachelor's program will take 40 months and the master's 28.

"We kind of anticipate that at the beginning we might have a bit more master's (candidates) but we really want to get out there and recruit more young people interested in entry-level positions in the profession," Buchanan says.

Supervision By Dentists Will Vary

Regardless of the institution they attend, graduates will be allowed to work under indirect supervision of a dentist in their first year, meaning the dentist must be in the same building, according to Buchanan. After that, they may return to school for a master's advanced dental therapy degree and may take a clinical examination and become advanced dental therapists, certified to perform extractions and other irreversible procedures under general supervision, contracting with a dentist who need not be present.

Colleen Brickle, RDH, EdD, interim dean of Health Sciences at Normandale, has been working on the program and legislation for nearly four years. "Everybody's looking at Minnesota," she says. "The eyes of the United States are watching us."

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