The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) applauds the creation of a dental hygiene therapist (DHT) in Maine. Maine Governor Paul LePage signed the bill into law on April 28, 2014. This new member of the oral health team will be a registered dental hygienist who has additional education and experience.
The DHT will perform duties that include: assessment, cavity preparations and restorations, simple extractions, placement of crowns and space maintainers, referrals, administration of local and nitrous oxide anesthesia, preventive services and trauma management as well as administration of radiographs, and the provision, dispensing and administration of medications within the scope of the written practice agreement.
ADHA strives to expand access to oral health care for all Americans. Its policies support the development of a mid-level oral health practitioner defined as a licensed dental hygienist who has graduated from an accredited dental hygiene program and who provides primary oral health care directly to patients to promote and restore oral health through assessment, diagnosis, treatment, evaluation and referral services. This provider must meet the educational requirements to provide services within an expanded scope of care and practice under regulations set forth by the appropriate licensing agency.
As in other parts of the U.S., lack of access to dental care is a serious problem in Maine. While the creation of DHTs to improve the oral and overall health of Maine residents is a positive step, the legislation as written would be improved with the removal of restrictions that prevent the new provider from working in locations such as nursing homes, schools, physicians’ offices and hospitals as well as dental offices without the direct supervision of a dentist. ADHA policy recognizes that dental hygienists who are graduates of an accredited program are competent to provide dental hygiene services without supervision. Oral health care providers in Minnesota and Alaska — as well as more than 50 countries worldwide — are already proving that underserved populations can be served safely and effectively under off-site or general supervision by collaborating dentists.
A recent report by the National Governors Association encourages states who are facing increasing demand for oral health to examine the role that dental hygienists can play in increasing access to care by allowing them to prac–tice to the full extent of their education and training. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission also weighed in late in 2013; in a written statement to the Commission on Dental Accreditation, the FTC stated that “[t]he ability of dental therapists to work without a dentist on the premises is critical to their ability to increase the availability of dental care in areas where dentists are scarce or unavailable.”