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CODA votes to establish standards for dental therapy education programs

The Commission on Dental Accreditation voted Aug. 5 to grant the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s request to establish accreditation standards for dental therapy education programs.

However, it’s only a first step in the complex process of accreditation, said Dr. Donald R. Joondeph, chair of the commission.

“This does not mean that CODA is evaluating any existing dental therapy program,” said Dr. Joondeph. Instead, he is appointing a task force to develop new standards for dental therapy education programs. The task force will report its progress at the August 2012 CODA meeting.

“The commission is committed to an open and transparent dialogue as the dental therapy standards are developed,” said Dr. Joondeph. “The process of developing standards will take two years, at a minimum, and the communities of interest will be able to review and comment on the draft standards through written comment at any time during the process or at open hearings.”

Dental therapy education programs are not eligible for accreditation by the commission until the standards are finalized and implemented. Dr. Joondeph said that CODA carefully considered U of M’s documentation and evidence for each criterion under the commission’s “Policy on Eligibility of New Allied Dental Programs for Accreditation by the Commission on Dental Accreditation” in reaching its decision.

Several points were made during discussion:

  • The establishment of standards for dental therapy education is reflective of the commission’s mission, which is to serve the public by establishing, maintaining and applying standards regarding the quality and continuous improvement of dental and dental-related education.
  • The commission is the only entity that has expertise in accreditation of dental education programs and can set standards on a national basis. There is the potential for fragmentation of the accreditation process if the state dental boards or other accrediting agencies accredit programs.
  • Patient welfare and patient care could be adversely affected if there are no educational standards for dental therapy. The commission has the ability and the obligation to set educational standards to help ensure patient safety.

The American Dental Association in a statement Aug. 9 said, “The commission sets the national scope of practice when it develops accreditation standards in a discipline of dentistry. Although CODA is a long way from defining the scope of practice for dental therapists, the American Dental Association is already on record as firmly opposing anyone other than a dentist diagnosing oral disease or performing surgical/irreversible procedures. While CODA is an agency of the ADA, accreditation decisions, standard setting and accreditation policy is solely under the Commission's purview, as outlined in the ADA Bylaws. CODA is recognized by the United States Department of Education to accredit dental and dental-related education programs conducted at the post-secondary level. USDE criteria for recognition require the Commission to have a stringent conflict of interest policy.

“Ultimately, the goal of CODA and the ADA are the same—the provision of safe, effective dental care to patients. The ADA remains very clear in its position that only a dentist, by virtue of education, training and clinical experience, should diagnose oral disease and perform surgical/irreversible procedures.”