by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
On Thursday, January 16, the N.C. Rules Review Commission announced that dental hygienists in high-need areas will be allowed to treat patients without direct supervision. This is a step forward for dental care in the rural parts of North Carolina. Carolina Journal’s Julie Havlak explains:
North Carolina’s rural communities are starved for dental care. Camden, Hyde, and Tyrrell counties haven’t hosted a dentist for the past decade. Almost 60 counties have dental care shortages, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in 2018. And only 29.7% of dentists accepted patients covered by North Carolina’s Medicaid in 2016.
For residents of Tyrrell County, the closest dentist is a 45-minute drive away, and nearly half of the residents reported losing at least one tooth because of poor oral hygiene.
The change would allow dental hygienists to fill in the gaps for areas that do not have enough dentists. The new rule makes some meaningful changes to the procedures dental hygienists are allowed to perform. Havlak writes:
It frees hygienists to perform basic procedures, such as cleanings, in high-need areas with only a dentist’s standing order instead of the presence of a dentist. It also allows dentists to supervise more than two working hygienists in high-need areas.
…The rule change is expected to kick in this February.