States Work to Improve Access to Basic Oral Health Care

WASHINGTON—Basic oral health is an important determinant of overall health, yet access remains a challenge for many Americans. Dental hygienists can play a critical role in improving access to high-quality services, especially for underserved or vulnerable populations, according to a new paper released today by the National Governors Association (NGA).

The Role of Dental Hygienists in Providing Access to Oral Health Care summarizes various policies governing the role of dental hygienists and examines alternative models and practices from states.

“Lack of access to adequate oral health care services is an ongoing problem in the United States,” said NGA Executive Director Dan Crippen. “Innovative state programs are showing that increased use of dental hygienists can promote access to oral health care, particularly for underserved populations, including children.”

Dental hygienists typically perform preventative oral health services, including fluoride and sealant applications and cleanings. These services prevent cavities and gum disease, which, when left untreated, can result in more serious health conditions.

To increase access to basic oral health, some states have explored policies that would permit and even encourage dental hygienists to practice outside dentists’ offices. Specifically, states have looked into altering supervision or reimbursement rules, as well as creating professional certifications for advanced-practice dental hygienists. Thus far, studies of pilot programs have shown safe and effective outcomes.

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