Grant Money To Kick-start VTC Program

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2018 11:41:53 PM

Randolph Center — A federal grant of $400,000 this year is set to help Vermont Technical College get its new dental therapy program off the ground.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant, which the state’s congressional delegation announced in a news release on Friday, will cover the costs of building a simulation lab; purchasing equipment and other supplies, and personnel, said Dr. Cheyanne Warren, who is directing Vermont Tech’s program.

“It’s very exciting for us,” she said in a phone interview on Monday.

Because dental therapists — which are to oral health what nurse practitioners are to physical health — do not cost as much to train as dentists, the hope is that they will reduce the cost to provide services and therefore allow for expanded access to dental care in underserved areas, Warren said.

A bill allowing dental therapists to practice in Vermont became law in June of 2016.

With the grant in hand, Warren said she is free to focus on the next steps of establishing the program, which is expected to welcome its first 10 students in the spring of 2020 and will be taught in Williston, where the school’s existing dental hygiene program is based.

She is now putting together an application for accreditation with the Commission on Dental Accreditation. She plans to submit the application soon and then expects it will take seven to 12 months before the program is accredited.

“I can spend my time finishing the accreditation instead of looking in every nook in cranny for funding,” Warren said.

Warren also will work to set up equipment and get the Williston site ready to welcome students.

The program, which will initially be capped at 10 students, will take 15 months for students who are already hygienists, Warren said. It will take three years — year-round — for students who come directly from high school.

Expanded access will begin at the Williston Vermont Tech site, which used to have a dentist who provided treatment such as fillings, in addition to the cleanings offered by the hygienists-in-training, Warren said.

“We’re excited to be able to offer that again,” she said.

Members of Vermont’s congressional delegation lauded the program in the release.

“We are proud of VTC’s leadership to address a timely health care challenge in our state,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in the release.

Poor oral health can contribute to other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., noted. Oral health problems also can make it difficult to hold down a job. Sanders said he is hopeful more people will get their dental care needs met with the help of dental therapists.

“I am proud this groundbreaking effort is happening right here in Vermont and hope this new workforce of dental therapists will help lead the way in improving access to oral health care throughout the country,” Sanders said in the release.

With the help of the federal grant, Warren said she hopes that Vermont Tech will be able to establish an online dental therapy program to teach Maine hygienists the skills they need to provide care in their state. Maine passed legislation allowing for dental therapists before Vermont, but has not yet established a program to train them, Warren said.

One health benefit, which perhaps was not taken into account by the grant reviewers, has been immediate for Warren.

“I sleep better at night now,” she said.

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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