Nov 19, 2010

As One of Five States New Mexico Will Pursue a Dental Therapist Model to Expand the Reach of Dentists and Increase Access to Dental Care

Pamela K. Blackwell, JD – Health Action New Mexico
505.508.2768, ">

ALBUQUERQUE NM – Health Action New Mexico announced today that it will lead a
pioneering effort to bring the innovative dental therapy provider model to New Mexico to help end serious shortages of accessible and affordable dental care. Three other organizations – Con Alma Health Foundation, New Mexico Health Resources and New Mexico Voices for Children – will support the effort.

“Dental therapists can provide critical services for rural, tribal and underserved communities. We can’t continue to ignore our state’s unmet oral health care needs. Other proposals haven’t worked. It’s time to try one that does,” said Barbara Webber, executive director of Health Action New Mexico.

New Mexico is part of a national movement to expand the dental health team. The W.K.
Kellogg Foundation will give five states – Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Vermont and Washington – funding and other support to pursue the dental therapist model.

Health Action New Mexico’s announcement comes on the heels of a report recently released from Con Alma Health Foundation calling for New Mexico to pursue an alternative dental workforce model as a way to expand access to sorely needed dental care in rural, tribal and underserved New Mexico communities.

“New Mexico’s rural and tribal communities have spoken,” said Dolores Roybal, executive
director of Con Alma Health Foundation. “These communities are interested in exploring a mid-level dental provider model similar to the dental therapist model as a solution to meeting their dental health needs, and as a long-term, economic career opportunity for their citizens.” (To learn more about report’s key findings, click here.)

“Rural communities throughout New Mexico have lost jobs and businesses including healthcare providers,” Webber noted. “Now, remaining health professionals are under even more strain to meet the healthcare needs of their communities.”

Dental care is inaccessible or unaffordable for far too many New Mexicans. Thousands of New Mexico families live in areas without enough dentists to meet their needs and many cannot afford oral health care. In fact:

• New Mexico ranks 49th worst in the U.S. in the number of dentists per 1,000 people.
• 69% of New Mexico dentists practice in metropolitan areas.
• Thousands of New Mexicans – many of them children, elders, and persons with
disabilities – do not have access to necessary dental care or must wait more than 6
months for it.
• As a result, too many New Mexicans:

  • Live in pain
  • Miss school or work, contributing to lost productivity and lower academic performance.
  • Face in rare instances life threatening medical emergencies as a result of untreated dental infections.
  • Develop preventable more serious, long-term health problems.

Dental Therapists: A Solution for New Mexico
Dental Therapists:

  • Are dental providers who practice under the general supervision of dentists to provide safe, high-quality, cost-effective dental services to rural and tribal communities. (RTI Alaska dental therapist program study, Oct. 2010)
  • Are homegrown, culturally competent providers, selected by their communities, who return to practice in their home community.
  • Complete more than 3,000 hours of rigorous, competency-based education, training and clinical experience.
  • Expand the reach of dentists to underserved and remote communities using telemedicine.
  • Have provided care since 2006, in remote Alaskan tribal villages. They are well established in many other industrialized countries, like New Zealand and the U.K., where they have provided oral health services to underserved communities for more than 80 years.
  • New Mexico already relies on mid-level providers such as physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, dental hygienists, and certified midwives, to provide vital healthcare services.

Full news release.

Con Alma Health Foundation - The Heart and Soul of Health in New Mexico

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