Dental Hygienist Turned Dental Therapist Is on a Unique Journey

Mark Kobylinsky, RDH, EPP, DT

Mark Kobylinsky, RDH, EPP, DT, is dually licensed in dental therapy and dental hygiene, with 9 years as a dental hygienist and 1 year as a dental therapist. Earning his dental therapy license in 2022 , he is one 13 dental therapists currently working in the state of Oregon. Kobylinsky earned his dental therapy licensure through Oregon’s Dental Pilot Project 300, whose goal is to extend dental services to underserved communities by widening dental hygienists’ abilities to take on new responsibilities. He currently works at Willamette Dental, located in the heart of Southeast Portland where he enjoys providing essential oral healthcare to around 100 patients who face barriers accessing dental care. Kobylinsky is also the treasurer of the American Dental Therapy Association.

Kobylinsky emphasizes the collaborative nature of dental teams, dispelling misconceptions about dental therapy competing with traditional dentistry. Instead, he highlights how dental therapists complement dentists by handling simpler tasks, allowing dentists to focus on more complex procedures. His wife is also an oral health professional, and they are passionate about bringing dental care to those in need. Sunstar Ebrief sat down with Kobylinsky to learn more about his unique career journey.

  1. What piqued your interest in dental hygiene?

I have been interested in the dental field since I was young, so when I was given the opportunity to job shadow at a local dental office in college, I immediately agreed. I shadowed all positions, but the dental hygienist position stood out to me the most. I was drawn to the hours and compensation, but, most of all, I liked the idea of educating patients to prevent disease.

  1. How did you make the transition from dental hygiene to dental therapy?

Shortly after graduating from dental hygiene school, I was hired at Willamette Dental Group to work side by side with my dentist as a restorative hygienist, restoring prepped teeth in addition to performing various functions of a dental hygienist. My dentist was passionate about the development of the dental field and invited me to participate in Pilot Project 300; I accepted without hesitation. Since it was a pilot, there was a catch. It was possible that I would invest years of my life toward a career that was may never be. Regardless, I was eager to take the chance, potentially opening a development opportunity for dental hygienists in the future. I continued through the program at Pacific University with the mentorship of my dentist to whom I am still grateful. There was a lot of opposition toward dental therapy at the time and the future felt very unclear. Finally, in 2021, Oregon amended House Bill 2528 allowing dental therapists to be licensed and practice in Oregon. Now, I am working at Willamette Dental Group but as a licensed dental therapist. I am grateful to be in an organization that is innovative and supports development of the job group to increase access to care for patients in underserved and rural areas.

  1. What is a typical day in practice look like for you?

Most of the time, my patient schedule is side by side with the dentist’s, but it can vary. Because I work in a collaborative agreement with the dentist, I perform those procedures that are appropriate for a dental therapist to undergo. I see a lot of children and the majority of my procedures are restorative, with some occasional primary or perio-involved extractions with Class III mobility. I also help the dentists with periodic exams throughout the day as needed.

  1. What do you think the future holds for dental therapy?

Dental therapy is very new. I think it will only continue to grow from here. My office focuses on patients covered by Oregon Health Plan. The demand is high and access to care can be challenging because most private practices only accept a limited number of Oregon Health Plan patients, if any. The future of dental therapy is working alongside dentists and dental hygienists in areas of high need to help improve access to care.

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