U.S. Dental School Deans’ Attitudes About Mid-Level Providers

The introduction of mid-level providers to the U.S. dental workforce is currently a topic of heated debate. As little is known about the opinions of those who educate oral health professionals on the subject of such practitioners, a survey of U.S. dental school deans was undertaken to gauge their attitudes about alternative workforce models in the dental profession. The survey was sent to deans of the then-fifty-eight U.S. schools of dentistry; forty-four responded for a 76 percent response rate. Over three-fourths of the respondents agreed that the scope of practice for both dental hygienists and dental assistants should be expanded; significantly, over half agreed that the future of dentistry should include a dental therapist-type practitioner. Moreover, thee-fourths agreed that such practitioners or expanded-duty hygienists would improve access to care for the underserved, and between half and two-thirds agreed that the quality of care delivered by these professionals would not be a problem. The attitudes of the deans about mid-level providers falls somewhere between that reported for U.S. dentists generally, who tend to be skeptical, and for dentists in other countries, who, once they have worked in a system with dental therapists, tend to be supportive.