Why does physical therapy want to “grow up” to be like dentistry?


By Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT

How is it that 75-plus years ago the dental profession was merely dedicated to painfully treating dental disease and now has evolved to be a primary health and wellness provider involved in our care throughout our lifespans? Clearly someone had both a vision and a plan to get the profession there. Could the new American Physical Therapy Association’s Vision give us a springboard?

Consider the following table, which shows how dentists have evolved and let us challenge ourselves to come up with parallel developments for physical therapists. We would love it if you shared your ideas with the Private Practice Section (PPS) — to to PPS online (www.ppsapta.org) and log on to the Message Boards section!

Dentistry Past Roles Additional Roles and Operations
Fill Cavities Prevention and protection of oral health in childhood though old age
Treat Infections Establishment of a “dental home” or family dentist that serves all
(See www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/dentists-doctors-of-oral-health)
Extract Rotten Teeth Evaluation of dental disease risk factors and education on preventative measures
Replace Lost Teeth with Dentures Wellness check-ups every 6 months to a year throughout the lifespan
(See www.dentaleconomics.com/articles/print/volume-101/issue-7/practice/the-wellness-model-ofdental-
practice.html )
Treat Oral Disease & Decay Wellness tune-ups (cleanings, fluoride treatments, etc.)
Cosmetic dentistry (caps, veneers, etc.)
Retail dentistry offerings (whitening kits, electronic toothbrushes, etc.)
Well-accepted and prescribed use of extenders (dental hygienists and dental assistants)
Dental specialists
(See www.dentaleconomics.com/articles/print/volume-101/issue-7/practice/the-wellness-model-ofdental-
Partial reliance on third-party payment and clear cash pricing on non- or partially covered services (crowns, cosmetic dentistry, etc.)
Direct to consumer national and local marketing and media strategies
(See www.1800dentist.com/driving-the-dental-consumer)
National campaigns geared toward oral health awareness and dentistry
(See www.ada.org/en/public-programs/mouthhealthy)



Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT, is president and consultant of Steffes & Associates, a national rehabilitation consulting group focused on marketing and program development for private practices nationwide. She is an instructor in five physical therapy programs and has actively presented, consulted, and taught in 40 states. She can be reached at steffbiz@gmail.com.