Editor's note: This commentary is by Patricia L. Moulton, who is president of Vermont Technical College and former Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
Vermont Technical College recently joined health care leaders, dentists, academics and legislators in Burlington to help finalize the introduction of dental therapy, an innovative profession that can help combat some of Vermont's most critical needs. I spoke about Vermont Tech's effort to launch the first dental therapy education program in the eastern United States and our potential to serve as a New England hub to increase access to care throughout the region.
Dental therapists, providers who function similarly to a physician assistant on a medical team, can provide preventive and routine restorative care, such as filling cavities. In 2016, thanks to the leadership of Sens. Michael Sorotkin and Jeanette White, and Reps. Anne Pugh and Bill Lippert, Vermont became only the third state to authorize the practice. The profession has since expanded to 12 states that now allow dental therapists to practice.
Vermont Tech has supported the movement for dental therapy from the beginning and stands at the ready to help train those looking to break into the field. The program we are creating builds upon a very successful dental hygiene program and, like all of our existing programs, will ensure graduates are prepared to make an immediate, high-quality impact in our communities. Currently, we are partnering with some of the states Federally Qualified health centers to serve as externship sites that will help students gain real-world experience.
With the third oldest population in the nation and 35% of the state's dentists age 60 or older, Vermont needs an expansion of the dental workforce, or gaps in access to care will worsen. As we strive to attract a young, talented workforce, dental therapists will help alleviate our state's issues by creating crucial, well-paying jobs.
In practice, dental therapists provide dentists with the flexibility to offer high-quality care in a cost-effective way. More patients can be seen both in existing dental offices as well as in rural and underserved areas of the state. The profession can also serve as a catalyst for economic growth, helping us to attract a younger workforce in search of the education and job opportunities they desire.
Although it has been a long journey, Vermont has been a leader in our nation's progress on this critical health care issue. These strides in the right direction will help make the oral care that all Vermonters deserve more accessible and continue to make the Green Mountain State a leader at the forefront of an important issue. Vermont Tech is happy to be a partner in making that happen.