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Dental therapists should be part of solving dental crisis

Dr. Joe L. Valles’s Oct. 24 op-ed article, “NM Families need dentists, not therapists,” needs both a fact check and correcting.

First, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is a nonprofit, independent, private organization that is not part of the Kellogg Company. It has been this way since its founding in 1930 when it was first named the Child Welfare Society of Battle Creek, Mich., and its focus was on the health, well being and happiness of children.

Today, that focus is still very much intact. Ensuring all children have access to regular dental care is key to a child’s overall health. If you don’t think so, consider your own child’s ability to perform in school with a searing toothache or worse.

One of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s core values is belief in a community’s inherent capacity to help itself. When community leaders in New Mexico sought a partner to help bring a dental therapist model that could expand care to New Mexico’s children, we were supportive.

Opinions matter, but not as much as the facts: Lack of access to dental care is a serious problem in New Mexico, which ranks 49th in the U.S. in the number of dentists per thousand residents and where a six-month wait to see a dentist is not uncommon.

Valles advocates creating a “complete dental team” to serve underserved communities. We agree — and dental therapists can and should be part of that team. These highly trained midlevel professionals work with dentists, not in place of them, to provide a specific set of commonly needed services in communities where care is not readily available.

Because dental therapists typically come from the communities they serve, they are both trusted care providers and unlikely to leave town after a short stint. Moreover, independent research consistently demonstrates the high quality of care they provide; not a single study has shown otherwise.

Many dentists – especially those with an interest in improving public health – support dental therapists and are adding them to their overall team.

By now, we all are wise enough to know that health care crises do not have singular answers. We do know that dental therapists can provide safe, competent, quality care that can help address New Mexico’s oral health care crisis.