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Rural Health Information Hub

Allied Health Professional Model

Allied health professionals support rural oral health programs by providing oral healthcare services, including:

  • Education
  • Referral
  • Screening
  • Support services

According to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions,

“Allied Health professionals are involved with the delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation and prevention of diseases and disorders…”

Allied health professionals include:

  • Dental hygienists
  • Dental assistants
  • Health educators
  • Dental laboratory technicians
  • Community dental health coordinators

Some states have proposed the creation of a new allied health professional training program for mid-level dental providers called dental therapists to perform certain procedures. As of 2021, dental therapists are authorized to work in 13 states, and 12 additional states are actively exploring the authorization of dental therapy.

Implementation Considerations

Allied health professionals may support school-based programs (see School-Based Model), mobile dental services programs (see Mobile Dental Services Model), dental clinic programs (see Dental Clinic Model), and dental home programs (see Dental Home Model).

There is promising evidence that expanding the scope of services delivered by allied health professionals increases access to oral healthcare, increases the availability of oral health professionals in communities that are medically underserved, and reduces cavities.

Resources to Learn More

Community Dental Health Coordinator
Describes a new type of community health worker — a community dental health coordinator — to help address the oral healthcare needs of people in underserved locations. Includes information on training for this role.
Organization(s): American Dental Association (ADA)

Evaluating Dental Therapy: A Plan for Implementation, Outcome, and Cost Evaluation
Outlines a plan with examples for evaluating dental therapy programs (DTP) that can be customized and incorporated early in DTP development. Plan focuses on the implementation efforts and outcomes rather than on the training of dental therapists. Discusses oral healthcare disparities in the U.S., limited access to dentists particularly for children, and the importance of dental therapists as mid-level practitioners who can improve access by providing basic oral healthcare.
Author(s): Rog, D., Love, C., & Hawkins, J.
Organization(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Westat
Date: 5/2016

Expanding the Dental Workforce
Provides an overview of Pew's work to expand the dental workforce by licensing dental therapists to improve access to treatment in rural communities, with a focus on children.
Organization(s): The Pew Charitable Trusts
Date: 3/2018