New report lays out challenges in expanding practice of dental hygienists

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Conor Lawless via Flickr

An estimated 61 percent of low-income children — roughly 6.5 million kids — lack dental sealants that could help protect their teeth from decay, according to federal research.

School sealant programs have been shown effective in getting preventive treatments to children who might otherwise go without.

But in some states, restrictive dental practice acts — limiting the ability of dental hygienists to deliver preventive services in schools and other public health settings represent barriers to care, according to a new issue brief from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“State practice acts might include requirements that dentists examine children before a hygienist can seal their teeth in school, that dentists be present while a hygienist performs this service, or that private dentists cannot employ hygienists working in schools,” notes the brief.

Even so, efforts to make state dental practice acts less restrictive have been an enduring source of controversy.

Check out this new AHCJ tip sheet that can help your reporting on this issue.

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