Indiana is considering legislation that would allow dental hygienists to perform duties without a dentist on site. And why not?
That could allow additional patients to receive treatment — as long as they are already under a dentist's care.
House Bill 1061, now before the Indiana General Assembly, would grant that flexibility.
"It opens up doors for dental hygienists who are underemployed and unemployed," said Eileen Curosh, of Munster, a trustee for the Indiana Dental Hygienists Association. Curosh is a dental hygienist in Dyer.
Curosh testified in support of the bill earlier this month before the House Public Health Committee.
The Indiana Dental Association wants the bill to specify that a hygienist has to perform work within 45 days of a dentist's prescription — the current limit — instead of 90 days as HB 1061's author proposed. Oral health can change significantly in 90 days, said Indiana Dental Association Executive Director Doug Bush. That's especially true for children, those in nursing homes and people with disabilities, he said.
So leave the time between a dentist's exam and the hygienist's cleaning at no more than 45 days, to make sure oral health hasn't changed much before the dental hygienist addresses the patient's issues.
The legislation also would allow hygienists to administer nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas, to patients. This would be under the direct supervision of a dentist and following appropriate training.
Put this legislation in perspective. Indiana, like other states, needs to figure out how to expand health care. That's true for dental health as well as everything else.
"Many Hoosiers live in rural areas that lack access to care, and many live in inner cities," Curosh said. "Hygienists should be able to work in public health facilities and long-term care facilities without a dentist physically present. Hygienists should be able to work in schools, again without a dentist present."
This also would allow a dental hygienist to work on a patient while the dentist is at lunch or arrives late or needs to take a sick day or can't be in the office for any other of a number of reasons.
HB 1061 would expand care in a state that generally ranks poorly on a number of health measures. It should go forward.