Dental hygienists bite into bill

Rep. Marilyn Ruestman meets with Southern´s dental hygiene instructors.

Rep. Marilyn Ruestman meets with Southern´s dental hygiene instructors.

Members of the Missouri Dental Hygienists’ Association met at the capitol Feb. 11 to lobby against House Bill 1358 and Senate Bill 1154 that would allow dental assistants to perform tasks beyond which is presently legal.

Dental hygienists are required to have 2,000-plus hours of classroom instruction as well as 600 hours of supervised clinical training before they can become certified. Upon becoming licensed, hygienists’ jobs are to be able to recognize oral health, detect oral disease, provide therapy to improve oral health and educate individuals on ways to prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

Dental assistants are required to have 72 hours of in-office training before they can work alone with individuals who have been patients for at least 12 months.

The two proposed bills would allow assistants to clean teeth and to go beyond a patient’s gum line. They would also be able to assess the oral health of a patient without a doctor’s supervision.

Students along with instructors from Missouri Southern were among the 275 members who were at the capitol.

“There are two things wrong with this bill,” said Kim Rogers, instructor of dental hygiene at Southern. “There will be a decrease in treatment as well as a lack of access to care issues. The same person who fed you yesterday at McDonald’s will be able to work on your teeth today.”

“With the knowledge and education I received at Southern,” said Kay Carlton, instructor of the school of dental hygiene. “I believe it is important to maintain the professional standards given in training and to provide quality care for the Missouri consumer.”

One possible motivation for the passage of the two bills could be money. Dental hygienists receive a higher earning than dental assistants. It would be cheaper for a dentist to employ assistants than to employ someone with a specific degree in the dental field.

There has been no action taken in the House to bring the bill to a vote. The Senate is still considering the bill.

“If the bill passes in the Senate, It won’t be approved in the House. Right now it is dead,” said Rep. Ron Richard (R -Joplin).

“Right now it looks like it might be possible for everyone to sit down and discuss the issue,” said Rep. Marilyn Ruestman (R-Joplin). “Hopefully, it can be settled without having to go through legislation, and that would be my greatest wish.”