Dental Health: Current ResearchISSN: 2470-0886

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Oral Health Provider Perceptions of Dental Therapists and Oral Health Equity in the Southeastern United States

Oral Health Provider Perceptions of Dental Therapists and Oral Health Equity in the Southeastern United States

Purpose: A growing need for oral health care is challenged by the maldistribution of oral health providers and lack of opportunity to access oral health care in the current system among underserved populations. Emerging workforce models, such as dental therapists, is one option for improving oral health equity and promoting access across racial/ethnic and socio-demographic groups while addressing those who suffer from disparate lack of access. The purpose of this study is to investigate existing dental workforce perspectives in several southeastern states about emerging workforce models, specifically dental therapists, as a first step in moving toward workforce diversity and oral health equity.
Procedures: Sixteen dental clinicians participated in focus group research.
Findings: Open coding and the constant comparative method was used to analyze the data. Five themes emerged.
Conclusions: The findings showed that participants held exclusionary and contradictory attitudes toward providing care to marginalized and underserved groups, questioned whether dental therapists had the training and skill to practice certain procedures and were most concerned about maintaining their own economic security. Findings were characterized by an absence of cultural competency and a resistance to intellectual inquisitiveness. Dialogue about how to address oral health inequity for the poor and underserved was given scant attention. These findings raise serious concerns as to whether dentists will become collaborative with other sectors of society to remedy the social policies that lead to oral health disparities and are willing to address the inequitable pain and suffering among those without access to oral health care.

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