Dental Hygienists Push For Independence; Dentists Push Back

Mar 28, 2014

Credit flickr/armymedicine

  Dental hygienists in Illinois could get a whole new job description under a proposal before the Illinois House. Hygienists say requiring less supervision would allow them to provide care in underserved communities.

In Illinois, a dental hygienist is the person who comes to clean your teeth (and maybe remind you to floss more) before the dentist. That's the key part — they can only do it in conjunction with a full exam by a dentist.

But hygienists say in thirty-six other states, they're are able to operate semi-independently, going into schools, nursing homes or community-based programs. In those settings, they're able to provide basic dental care ... which is often more than those populations ever receive.

Becky Bunge is president of the Illinois Dental Hygienists' Association. She says adopting this arrangement would help get dental care to underserved populations.

"We have a huge access to care issue in Illinois and this would be one way to address it," she said. "We are readily available for this. We have hygienists that can't find jobs."

But dentists say hygienists don't have the proper qualifications and training to provide care. They say the reason needy populations can't get dental care isn't because of a shortage of dentists ... it's because Illinois' Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low.