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Dental therapists at issue in Maine

January 14, 2014

By Craig Palmer, ADA News staff

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin

Portland, Maine—A push to create dental therapists is slowing efforts to solve Maine's dental crisis, says a "Maine Voices" op-ed piece in the Jan. 14 Portland Press Herald authored by Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist practicing in Augusta and ADA second vice president.

"The good news is that the Maine Legislature, the dental profession and others are taking on the complex set of problems that created this crisis with a comprehensive set of solutions—solutions that have been proven on the ground in Maine and elsewhere to be actionable and effective," Dr. Shenkin wrote in the "special to the Press Herald" opinion piece.

"The bad news is that these efforts are being slowed by a legislative battle funded by an outside interest group that is relentlessly pursuing a one-size-fits-all solution—dental therapists," he said.

Citing a report by the Pew Children's Dental Campaign on emergency room use for dental issues, Dr. Shenkin asserted that Pew is "mischaracterizing an issue, selectively offering only data that seem to back its apparent single-solution policy agenda—dental therapists.

"Meanwhile, the state's dentists are linking arms with public health officials, educators, hospitals, other health professionals, Head Start programs and other stakeholders to take action now, deploying an array of solutions that actually fit the problems. Do we need help from the Legislature? Absolutely. Should that help be in the form of training nondentists to drill, fill and extract teeth? Absolutely not.

"Actions in our state by the Pew Children's Dental Campaign—misinterpreting and even, apparently, misrepresenting facts—are baffling and totally out of keeping with the larger foundation's reputation for using the best possible data to inform its policy agenda. Its apparent sole policy objective, creating dental therapists, is a solution in search of a problem," Dr. Shenkin said.

The Press Herald published the opinion piece under a headline, "Maine Voices: Pew's report misrepresents facts in push to create dental therapists" and subhead, "Its relentless pursuit of a one-size-fits-all solution is slowing efforts to solve Maine's dental crisis."

"Pew is an organization that takes research very seriously and thoroughly vets and fact-checks everything it publishes," Pew said in a statement. "We stand behind the two reports mentioned in both the article and the op-ed that appeared in a Maine newspaper."

The 2nd regular session of the 126th Maine Legislature convened on Jan. 8.