Dental hygiene practitioners empowered under Senate budget rider
The mascot Molly the Molar was part of the "Dental Adventure" held at Holyoke Health Center to mark National Children's Dental Health Month. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 25, 2016.....Your next tooth extraction or crown work might not be performed by a dentist but rather an advanced dental hygiene practitioner, a designation created under a budget amendment unanimously adopted Wednesday in the Senate.
Adding to a stream of policy ideas being tacked onto the annual spending bill, the amendment filed by Worcester Sen. Harriette Chandler designates dental hygiene practitioners, a mid-level professional similar to a physician assistant on a medical team. Chandler said those providers would increase dental access for vulnerable populations and make health care spending more efficient.
"This amendment allows us to expand care to people who need it without asking for more investment from our taxpayers. This is a safe, this is a proven model for dental care that has worked for decades in other countries," Chandler said. "This model has been approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which sets the national standards for all dental providers."
Chandler said Minnesota and Alaska have already created the designation, and both Maine and Vermont are in the process of doing the same. Dental hygiene practitioners work under the supervision of a licensed dentist while providing routine care, she said.
Among the additional training required for dental hygiene practitioners would be a focus on patients who have special needs and elderly patients in nursing homes, Chandler said.
"This provider model is necessary because, quite frankly, minority communities, people with special needs, nearly 50 percent of the children on MassHealth and 60 percent of the seniors in long-term care struggle to access just normal dental care," Chandler said. "This model allows practitioners to serve rural areas and bring care directly to people in schools, nursing homes and other settings."
Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who called the issue of oral health "critically important," asked Chandler what the economic impact could be for dentists, noting that adding a new group of providers could "divert patients from their stream."
"I'm sure this is a concern of many dentists, and it shouldn't be," Chandler said in response. "We have enough research which shows that in taking on this new provider group dentists will be able to enhance their earnings and allow them to treat more underserved people."
Because of the training and certification that will be required for dental hygiene practitioners, Chandler said she does not expect the first dental hygiene practitioner to begin providing care for at least three years.
"As we envision a more patient-centered health care system that integrates oral health, we must embrace alternative strategies that make it easier and more affordable for children and families to access the dental care they need," Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care For All, said in a statement. "Passage of this provision is a crucial step forward as it will expand the dental team and give dentists the ability to bring care directly to patients in the community."
The amendment passed the Senate on a 39-0 roll call vote.
Hopefully it will drive down dental prices by increasing competition.
Next I'd like to see a designation of advanced paralegal that can do many of the things lawyers can do (such as representing someone in court for non complex issues like a traffic ticket) to drive down the cost of legal services.
Then I'd like to see those advanced paralegals be used as public defenders.