Metro State first degree

July 7, 2011
University offers state of Minnesota's first master's degree in oral healt care for dental practitioners to work with underserved populations.

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota--The first cohort of seven students in the Master of Science: Oral Health Care Practitioner program at Metropolitan State University completed coursework June 23, 2011.

The graduate program enables certified dental hygienists to enter into a new level of professional practice. They represent a classification of dental providers, dental therapists, and advanced dental therapists who are able to provide basic and restorative care in Minnesota under the supervision of licensed dentists.

The two new dental provider roles were authorized by the state legislature in 2009 to make it easier and more affordable for underserved populations, including children, the elderly, and working poor to obtain high-quality oral health care.

Oral health care students near graduation at Metropolitan State University

Dental therapists have either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree and require on-site supervision of dentists. Advanced dental therapists have a master’s degree and may see patients as part of a dental team with supervision by an off-site dentist.

Upon graduation, and after successfully completing an examination, the Metropolitan State University cohort will be fully licensed as dental therapists. They will need to complete 2,000 hours of practice as a dental therapist in order to apply for certification as an advanced dental therapist. Some of those hours already have been accrued as part of their training.

“The graduates of the Metropolitan State program are uniquely qualified, as each is also a licensed dental hygienist,” said Ann Leja, interim dean, Metropolitan State University College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “By holding both licenses, these practitioners can meet a wide range of oral health needs in our communities.”

Four students are enrolled in Metropolitan State University’s second cohort of Master’s in Oral Health Care, which began classes this spring.

“Oral health is one of the greatest unmet health care needs in our country,” said Sue Hammersmith, president of Metropolitan State University. “According to the Minnesota Department of Health, about one-third of our state’s 3,000 practicing dentists are 55 years or older, and there are seven Minnesota dentists retiring for every five entering the profession. We need to put more qualified dental therapists and advanced dental therapists into the market.”

From 1993 to 2000, Minnesota's dentist-to-population ratio suffered the greatest decline of all 50 states. The Pew Center on States highlighted Minnesota’s effort to pass the dental therapist legislation to help address the state’s dental care issues. In a February 2010 report, “The Cost of Delay,” Pew also highlighted Minnesota’s model as one of four innovative approaches that stand out nationally for their potential to improve the dental health of children. In May, Pew released its annual 50-state report card which recognized Minnesota as one of six states that increased its letter grade by two, from a C in 2010 to an A this year, for its improvements in children’s dental care.

For more information, go to

To comment on this subject, go to