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CODA announces public comment period to come for proposed dental therapy accreditation standards

February 14, 2013

By Karen Fox, ADA News staff

The ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation has announced that the proposed standards for dental therapy education programs will be released for public comment in the coming weeks.

ADA members will have opportunities to comment in writing or at one of several open hearings to be held this year, said Dr. Kent L. Knoernschild, CODA chair.

The accreditation standards have been under development for the past 18 months. Even so, there are a few questions to be answered before they can be approved.

For one thing, the proposed standards are presented as an independent dental therapy track not related to prior dental hygiene education. However, with advanced standing, accredited dental therapy programs could admit dental hygiene program graduates to the dental therapy program. In addition to comment on the proposed standards, CODA will request comment from the communities of interest on the appropriateness of the proposed track, noting that the proposed standards are presented as a nondental hygiene track but could be modified to support a dental hygiene program track.

CODA, which serves the public by establishing, maintaining and applying standards that ensure the quality and continuous improvement of dental, advanced dental and allied dental education programs, directed the task force to begin writing the standards in 2011 in response to a request from the University of Minnesota, which offers degrees in dental therapy and advanced dental therapy. In Minnesota, the state dental board is currently accrediting the dental therapy education programs.

“It is in keeping with CODA's mission to establish the standards that offer a consistent framework for dental and dental-related programs,” Dr. Knoernschild said. “Patient welfare and patient care could be adversely affected if there are no educational standards for dental therapy, and it is the commission that has the ability and the obligation to set educational standards to help ensure patient safety.

“CODA is the only established entity that has expertise in accreditation of dental education programs and can set standards on a national basis,” Dr. Knoernschild continued. “Without CODA taking the lead, there is the potential for fragmentation of the accreditation process if the state dental boards or other accrediting agencies accredit programs.”

In fact, just two months ago another agency, Community Catalyst, declared its intention to write standards and make its work available to those interested in promoting and developing dental therapist education programs. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Community Catalyst announced the formation of a panel that will develop by the spring of this year “a set of evidence-based, national education standards for programs that educate dental therapists in the United States.” The effort builds on curriculum guidelines for dental therapist education established by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry in 2010.

When CODA announced its intention to develop the standards in 2011, some ADA members voiced concern over the decision, which was taken into serious consideration by the ADA House of Delegates and Board of Trustees.

“Although CODA is an agency of the ADA, the U.S. Department of Education standards require that it function autonomously to avoid perceived conflict of interest,” said Dr. Knoernschild.

Having CODA involved in the process is preferred over having standards developed by an outside agency, said ADA President Robert A. Faiella.

“Members should be aware that CODA is presently the only accrediting agency recognized at the national level by the U.S. Department of Education for dental and dental-related education programs conducted at the postsecondary level,” said Dr. Faiella.

Even in draft form, CODA's proposed standards for dental therapy education must clear another obstacle. In writing the standards, the task force followed the Principles and Criteria Eligibility of Allied Dental Programs for Accreditation by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Dr. Knoernschild indicated that two key requirements of the eligibility criteria have not been met for dental therapy education programs:

• F-2: Has the allied dental education area been in operation for a sufficient period of time to establish benchmarks and adequately measure performance?
• F-5: Is there evidence of need and support from the public and professional communities to sustain the educational programs in the discipline?

The University of Minnesota does not expect to have outcomes measures on dental therapists until 2014. Until CODA obtains and evaluates those measures against both criteria in question, accreditation standards will not be implemented.

In response to CODA's decision to develop standards for dental therapy programs, the 2011 House and Board took action by passing resolutions that state:

“B-213a-2011. Resolved, that the ADA Board of Trustees reaffirm to the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) Resolution 53H-2011 which states that the Commission on Dental Accreditation be strongly urged to delay the process of developing accreditation standards for dental therapy programs for the purpose of further review of compliance with CODA's Principles and Criteria Eligibility of Allied Dental Programs, and be it further “Resolved, that CODA be urged to hold additional open hearings to receive testimony from interested stakeholders on the dental therapy accreditation issue and then revisit the decision to develop accreditation standards for dental therapy education programs.”

Stakeholder groups will have several opportunities to comment on the proposed standards for dental therapy education. CODA is holding open hearings at the American Dental Education Association Annual Session (March 16-19 in Seattle); American Dental Hygienists' Association Annual Session (June 19-25 in Boston); and the American Dental Assistants Association Annual Session and ADA Annual Session (Oct. 31-Nov. 3 in New Orleans).

The standards will be circulated for review through Dec. 1 and the commission will review comments at its winter 2014 meeting.