UTHSC College of Dentistry Increasing Availability of Dental Care by Expanding Continuing Education Opportunities

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The College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is preparing to increase the number of registered dental hygienists and dental assistants it certifies to perform some restorative or prosthetic functions, including placement of fillings, temporaries for crowns, and making impressions for various fixed and removable dental procedures. The goal is to increase availability and accessibility of dental care in the community and across the state.

The goal of the college is to double the number of participants it enrolls in the Expanded Functions for the Dental Auxiliary (EFDA) continuing education course, which trains dental hygienists and assistants to perform certain procedures currently done by licensed dentists.

The college is working to increase enrollment up to 210 students in the EFDA restorative course, and 40 in the EFDA prosthetics course starting January 1, 2020.

Dr. McKinney instructs a student enrolled in the EFDA Restorative Course in a simulation lab in the General Education Building. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

“The population in Tennessee has grown substantially in the last 15 years and a lot of areas in the state are in great need of improved access to dental care,” said Jerry McKinney, DDS, assistant professor in the Department of General Dentistry and Director of EFDA. “The dentists who are in those areas are overwhelmed and they need help meeting the dental needs of the community. The EFDA program is one answer to getting help to these undeserved areas – both rural and urban areas, such as downtown Memphis or Nashville. There are so many people moving into our state. We are seeing that very quickly this situation is overwhelming the ability of the local dentists to handle this increased population.”

“The EFDA programs across the United States have been helping dentists and dental hygienists and assistants meet the needs of the expanding population nationwide and is helping the citizens of Tennessee as well,” he said.

According to Dr. McKinney, general dentists do mainly fillings and crowns and alone can perform many procedures in a day. Training more members of the dental team to perform these procedures will greatly impact the number of patients receiving care.

A student from the October restorative EFDA course returned in April for the prosthetics course. From October to April, she had placed over 300 fillings. “I have yet to speak to an EFDA student who’s completed the course who doesn’t love it. It’s a tremendous asset to the dental practice,” Dr. McKinney said.

“This is a great program,” said James C. Ragain, Jr., DDS, MS, PhD, FICD, FACD, dean of the UTHSC College of Dentistry. “It’s a wonderful way to reach across the state of Tennessee and improve the availability of direct care.”

Since they began in 2006, both continuing education courses have been in high demand among dental hygienists and dental assistants. So much so, that accepted students face a waiting list from one to four years before they can begin the program. “We are excited about the opportunity to serve more dental health care professionals, which will decrease the waiting time accepted students matriculate into our program,” said Lynne Moore, MPA, director of the Continuing Dental Education Office. “Our goal is to provide continuing educational activities that address the strategic dental health care needs of the state and improve participant competence to directly enhance patient care.”

Reception for increasing enrollment numbers in the two courses has been extremely positive from the Tennessee Board of Dentistry, the Tennessee Dental Association, and the Tennessee Academy of General Dentistry according to the College of Dentistry as well as dentists across the state.

“With the increase in the number of students we will certify in a year’s time, the program will greatly impact the number of dental offices in the state able to provide these services,” Dr. McKinney said. “From there, the domino effect will spread dramatically to the number of people who can be served. It’s a great way to help serve the dental needs of the people of the state of Tennessee.”

The restorative and prosthetics EFDA courses are open to licensed dental hygienists and registered dental assistants currently licensed with the Tennessee Board of Dentistry and having a minimum of two years of continuous full-time employment within the past three years in a dental practice as a practicing dental assistant or hygienist. For more information on the UTHSC EFDA course contact the UTHSC College of Dentistry Continuing Dental Education Office or visit, https://www.uthsc.edu/dentistry/ce/index.php.