Maine’s first dental therapist—a cutting-edge new role in oral health—has been licensed by the state to practice at Penobscot Community Health Care.
Claire Roesler, RDH, MDT was approved by the state dental board this week. Dental therapists are advanced practice professionals, similar to nurse practitioners or physician assistants in medical clinics, who must have advanced degrees and extra training in their field. Her new licensing will allow her to perform preventive and basic restorative procedures like filling cavities, doing extractions and placing crowns—all services much in demand by the thousands of Mainers served by the PCHC Dental Center.
“This is an exciting and encouraging day for access to oral health in the state of Maine, and in our communities,” said Angela Chase, the dental center’s executive division director. “It’s a historic day to celebrate.”
Roesler, who joined PCHC last year, has been operating on her hygiene license while her dental therapy application was pending. While dental therapy was approved in Maine a number of years ago, it was only last year that the state board opened a path to licensing. Public health experts say that the addition of dental therapists is crucial in rural states like Maine, where there is a shortage of dental providers. According to a report by the Pew Trusts, the shortage of dental providers in Maine is exacerbated by the state’s rural and remote geography, a rapidly aging existing dental workforce and a paucity of dental practices that participate in MaineCare. (PCHC Dental is one of the few that do).
It’s especially tough on kids. The 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey found that 39 percent of kindergartners and 45 percent of third graders had experienced tooth decay. But grown-up Mainers did not fare well in a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2018, where only 65 percent of adults had seen a dentist in the previous year.
Claire grew up in the rural Midwest, earned her B.S. in Nutritional Science from Iowa State University and both Bachelor of Dental Hygiene and Master of Dental Therapy from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.
“I believe everyone should have access to high-quality dental care,” she said. “I chose PCHC because the mission and vision is based on increasing that access. I wanted to be on the team that delivers patient-centered service to everyone who walks through the door.”