The Hygienist May Someday Be an Independent Practitioner
In this poll, we asked dentists:Do you support expanding the role of dental hygienists as independent practitioners?
Four out of five dentists don’t think hygienists should have greater independence. A full 81% of dentists responded, “No – many of these proposed changes would harm dental practices and offer patients a lower standard of care.” Only 19% replied, “Yes – Granting dental hygienists greater autonomy would improve access to care for patients across the country.”
The most significant factor in determining a dentist’s vote was geographic location. Rural dentists were four times more likely than their urban or suburban colleagues to support greater independence for hygienists. As rural areas are more likely to suffer from a shortage of dentists, it may be that rural dentists see hygienists as a way to improve access to care for rural patients.
Specialists were completely (100%) opposed to granting hygienists more independence. While most general dentists were in agreement, one in five general dentists (21%) did favor greater rights for dental hygienists. See the full survey results.
Here are some of the comments our dentists had to share:
Go to Dental School
- “If hygienists want to practice dentistry, go to dental school.” (suburban Illinois)
- “Hygienists would be great independent practitioners upon graduating dental or medical school.” (suburban Connecticut)
There’s No Replacement for a Dentist’s Supervision
- “Expanded roles would be great within a dental practice. It’s not a matter of money, but of complete and thorough care for all.” (urban Florida)
- “Expanding the role of hygienists MUST ensure that patients do not receive fragmented care.” (rural New Hampshire)
What About the Business Model?
- “The business model doesn’t make sense anyway… Hygienists generally do low-profit procedures; the overhead would kill them.” (urban Arkansas)
- “We have it in Colorado and it has had absolutely no impact. Hygienists are not the autonomous entrepreneurial sort.” (urban Colorado)
- “There is no money in prevention so these hygiene offices would go out of business.” (urban California)
Standards of Care Must Be Maintained
- “My concern is the insurance industry will find it easy to set up hygiene clinics that promote minimal care, not optimal.” (urban North Carolina)
- “Only a dentist can diagnose decay and periodontal disease.” (suburban Washington)
- “The mean reason that I need to do more surgery then would have been necessary is poor root planing by hygienists.” (Periodontist, urban Iowa)
In Defense of Dental Hygienists
- “It is us, hygienists, who have the potential to overlook dollar signs in our patients and do the right thing.” (Hygienist, suburban California)
- “I think that it would be great for hygienists to work on their own… in some cases they have a better eye for things than the doctor.” (Not a dentist, suburban Illinois)
Alaska Says It’s the Wave of the Future
- “Dentists have been trying to protect their turf by restricting or denying auxiliaries the ability to provide services… In Alaska, dental health aid therapists are working outside the regulation and licensing of dentistry. We need to wake up and be more receptive to auxiliaries doing portions of patient care and be in control of the education, licensing and regulation of these auxiliaries. It will happen with us or without us.” (suburban Alaska)