🎁 'Tis the season to support public service journalism Donate Now

Hygienists seek new role as dental therapists

Dan Gorenstein Oct 21, 2015

Hygienists seek new role as dental therapists

Dan Gorenstein Oct 21, 2015

For the past nearly four decades, dental hygienist Sandy Joslin has worked in well-heeled Vermont towns.

She cared for patients with high dental I.Q.s, “the ones with relatively few problems.”

“There is a lot about our profession that is rote, mundane and difficult,” she said.

Polishing teeth, scratching at plaque, finally got old. “I actually raised my voice in the last practice I worked and I said ‘I hate my job. I just want to do something different,’ said Joslin.

The 58-year old may get her chance.

This summer, the group that accredits dental schools has established guidelines to train a new kind of oral health provider  a dental therapist  who needs less training but can do much of the routine dental work.

Advocates hope the change spurs pending legislation in more than ten states to license these new workers.

In Vermont, the state Senate has passed legislation to permit dental therapists … the House takes up the measure next session.

If the bill becomes law Joslin would be able to drill, fill and extract teeth.

“I could contribute more to a profession that I’ve really loved,” she said. “It’s been too difficult to hold onto that pride. I need to have something more, have a little more autonomy and I think that helps anybody.”

In the last 18 months, Joslin has left private practice behind.

She now treats patients in senior centers and health clinics, men and women who need more than a hygienist.

“To take one person and make a bigger difference in the problems they bring would be great. Instead of leaving with seven cavities and the need for four sealants and fluoride,” she said.

For nearly four decades Joslin has comes home from work to her modest cottage in Hanover, New Hampshire knowing she’s helped at least one person.

As a therapist, she says it’d be more than that.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.