Dental Therapy program achieves CODA accreditation

Karl Self, Danae Seyffer, Drew Christianson, and Phonsuda Chanthavisouk smile and pose in a pre-clinical area with lab coats on.

Main image, from Left to Right: Karl Self, DDS, MBA; Danae Seyffer, MDT '11, Drew Christianson, MDT '13, Phonsuda Chanthavisouk, MDT '21

The Dental Therapy program at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry has received accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation, the commission announced in early March.

The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is responsible for the accreditation of dental, advanced dental and allied dental education programs throughout the United States. The School of Dentistry’s program is the third Dental Therapy program in the nation to receive accreditation and the first program associated with a dental school to achieve the milestone.

The accreditation process began in 2010, when the School of Dentistry, alongside the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and the Minnesota Dental Association, petitioned CODA to begin an expedited review and create standards to accredit dental therapy programs. The commission published its guidelines in 2015. So far, two additional programs—one in Alaska and one in Washington—have received accreditation.

Danae Seyffer, MDT ’11, and Drew Christianson, MDT ’13, both clinical associate professors in the Division of Dental Therapy, played a primary role in the accreditation process—and a significant role in shaping the dental therapy program into what it is today.

Drew Christianson and a student practice patient care on another student

“We had the unique experience of hearing from the communities dental therapists served from the beginning, and updating our program to fit those needs,” reflected Christianson. For example, when communities identified the need for additional dental hygiene training for dental therapists, the School of Dentistry was able to add licensure in dental hygiene as a program requirement.

“As educators that graduated from this program, we learned first-hand how the program could be strengthened,” Seyffer said. “We witnessed where we could modify the curriculum and make it more rigorous, which directly impacted our ability to successfully comply with CODA requirements.”

The accreditation process is particularly significant for graduates of the program. “This gives us credibility nationally,” explained Karl Self, DDS, MBA, director of the Division of Dental Therapy and Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “Starting in May 2023, all our graduates will have the designation of graduating from a CODA-accredited program—a requirement to practice in most states that have approved dental therapy. This allows full mobility of our students to meet needs in Minnesota and in other states.”

Danae Seyffer in the pre-clinical area

Educators in the program agree. “The accreditation is validating, because it shows us that we are educating students to the high standards they should expect,” said Seyffer.

“It leaves us with a sense of accomplishment,” added Christianson. “CODA accreditation is a big deal. As the first dental school that integrated dental therapy, being accredited shows the strength of our programs and allows us to be seen as a model. I’m proud that our students will graduate from an accredited program.”

Karl Self speaks with colleagues

Self is proud of the hard work the division has put into this process, and is grateful to see it pay off. “CODA sets the bar very high,” he said. “Our program has met their high standards, and now there will be other schools that emulate ours and see us as a model to implement dental therapy. To be a pioneer in a new field is validating.”

School of Dentistry leadership is proud to share in the joy of this milestone, as well. “I am proud to know that our program is accredited and will continue to graduate excellent oral health professionals who are well-prepared to meet the challenges of oral health care throughout the state,” said Sheila Riggs, DDS, MS, DMSc, chair of the Department of Primary Dental Care.”As the first dental school in the nation to educate dental therapists, this milestone allows us to further our mission to advance oral health through the highest-quality care for all communities.”