Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General documented the profound and significant disparities that exist in the oral health of children in the United States. Recently, the country has been issued a National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health, under the leadership of the Office of the Surgeon General. Among the significant factors contributing to the disparities problem is the access to oral health care by disadvantaged populations. There are inadequate numbers of dentists able and willing to treat children, particularly poor and minority children. In the early part of the twentieth century, New Zealand faced a significant problem with oral disease among its children and introduced a School Dental Service staffed by allied dental professionals, known as "school dental nurses," who had received two years training in caring for the teeth of children. A number of other countries have since adopted this model. This article reviews attempts to develop a comparable approach in the United States. Furthermore, it justifies and advocates the development of pediatric oral health therapists in the United States as a means of addressing the disparities problem that exists in this nation. These pediatric oral health therapists would be trained in a two-year program to provide dental care services to children. The article concludes by asserting that such action is a practical and cost-effective way for dentistry to fulfill its professional obligation to care for the oral health of all children, thus ensuring justice in oral health for America's children.

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Published in the Journal of Dental Education, v. 68, no. 1, p. 8-20.

Copyright © 2004 American Dental Education Association

Reprinted by permission of Journal of Dental Education, Volume 68, 1 (January 2004). Copyright 2004 by the American Dental Education Association. http://www.jdentaled.org

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