Farmington’s Fogarty advocates for replication of state’s dental therapy program
Appears on television, before Congress to spread message
Farmington City Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty has taken the national stage to encourage expansion of the first dental therapy program that trains dental hygienists to perform some of the same services as dentists.
Dental therapists provide dental services to the poor and uninsured who are not getting regular treatments, in part due to a shortage of providers who accept Medicare and other public assistance.
In 2009, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to allow dental therapy training, and Fogarty, a dental hygienist, was in the program’s first graduating class last year.
Dental therapists fill cavities, clean teeth and perform extractions under a dentist’s supervision.
After 2,000 hours experience, they earn the title of “advanced dental therapist,” and are free to expand their work outside of the dentist office, such as in nursing homes, to perform additional procedures but still following a dentist’s treatment plan.
Although the idea of similar educational programs have been discussed in other states, Minnesota’s front-runner status has allowed Fogarty a platform upon which to advocate for the program to spread beyond state borders.
At the request of U.S. Sen. Al Franken, in February Fogarty testified before a U.S. Senate committee for expanding the training to other states.
She was also interviewed for a PBS’ “Frontline” report about the issue set to air in June.
The show took hours to film and the crew “almost took over part of the clinic,” Fogarty said.
She said they asked a wide range of questions that she was instructed to respond as if they had not asked her a question.
“I thought they’d interview me for five or 10 minutes and it would be about a two-minute spot, but it was a two-and-a-half hour interview,” Fogarty said. “It really surprised me.”
Testifying in Washington, D.C., was a whirlwind experience for Fogarty, who said she arrived, testified and returned home in less than 24 hours.
She had been recommended to appear before the committee by her instructor.
Fogarty remains interested in more opportunities to advocate for similar programs in other states.
She said Vermont legislators are interested in the program, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the committee that Fogarty addressed.
While Fogarty is working to expand dental therapy programs in other states, the American Dental Association and similar advocacy groups oppose allowing non-dentists to perform surgical or irreversible dental care like extractions, citing patient safety concerns.
Fogarty said an advanced dental therapist is not a replacement for a dentist, but will help everyone, including seniors and children, have access to oral health care.
Laura Adelmann is at email@example.com or facebook.com/sunthisweek.