May 5, 2013

Letters to the editor

Dental hygiene therapists, the time is now

Dear Editor,
For far too long, rural Maine has suffered from the lack of access to oral health care. Nearly two- thirds of Mainers live in a rural areas but only 13.5 percent of dentists practice in areas falling into the rural category. Worse yet, within the next five years 23.7 percent of dentists in Maine plan to retire and an additional 16.1 percent expect to reduce their hours of operation. Most recently, according to the Maine Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, there is a shortage of dentists in every Maine county.

A study commissioned by the 125th Maine Legislature and partly funded by the MDA found that 55 percent of children in Maine had no access to dental care in 2010. In this day and age, this is completely unacceptable. Oral health is a vital part of a child's overall health. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that we will be facing a tidal wave of skilled care needs at all levels including dental. Dental Hygiene Therapists (DHT) could be utilized safely and effectively in group living situations to acts as adjuncts to overall dental care. Oral health issues are whole body issues; they are a matter of systemic health. Left untreated, infection  can spread to other parts of the body which can lead to much larger problems, even death.

Allowing the profession of the DHT, to help serve Maine citizens is a healthy, safe, common sense first step in addressing the oral health care access problem in our state. A 2012 report reviewed more than 1,100 studies and analyses worldwide of Dental Hygiene Therapists and found NO evidence that patients' safety or quality of care was compromised. A DHT, under the general supervision of a dentist, would perform only 24 procedures compared to dentists’ nearly 370.

The DHT will serve as a highly trained, skilled and educated professional who would be an adjunct to care to meet the dental needs of Maine's citizens.  DHT are now being utilized safely and effectively in other states. Maine's curriculum would be based on the best of these states. In addition to the four-year educational requirement to become a registered dental hygienist, the DHT program is a rigorous 18-month classroom curriculum focused on those 24 limited procedures the DHT's will be authorized to perform. DHT will also be required to have over 500 hours of clinical training. Once training is complete, the DHT is licensed to practice under a the general supervision of a dentist in the following health settings: a hospital, a clinic, a health center reimbursed as a federally qualified health center, a health center that serves under-served populations or a private dental practice.

Dental Hygiene Therapists will be expert providers of those basic procedures that Mainers desperately need."Dirigo", the state motto for Maine means "I lead". Let Maine continue to lead the way in oral health.

I am proud to join Senator Gary Plummer and over 40 other Legislators in supporting the dental hygiene therapist profession.

Please let your legislators know that you support the profession of the dental hygiene therapist.

This is a quality of life issue.

Ann-Marie Grenier


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