Worcester, Mass. — Carol Gilmore had been a dental hygienist for about 10 years when the Halifax resident heard about a new program designed to allow experienced dental hygienists to practice independently in the community.
After changes in Massachusetts law in 2009 and the adoption of new rules in 2010, the Public Health Dental Hygienists Program began operating in 2011 as a demonstration project through a grant from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).
The purpose of the program is to allow hygienists who meet certain standards to operate independently, in public health settings outside of dental offices. The goal is to increase access to basic dental care in the Commonwealth, particularly among residents at highest risk for dental diseases, such as low-income children, seniors and the developmentally disabled.
“I became a dental hygienist because I wanted a career where I could make a difference,” said Ms. Gilmore. “This new program allowed me to make a bigger difference in my community, and it helped me take my career to a whole new level.”
Increasing access to dental care
According to a 2010 report, The Health of Massachusetts, dental decay is the most common chronic disease among children, occurring at five times the rate of asthma. Another statewide survey reported that 59 percent of seniors living in long-term care facilities have untreated tooth decay.
While dental disease can be a problem for anyone, it disproportionately affects people of color and low-income groups. To address these findings and other dental disparities, public health dental hygienists perform their work in communities where access to care may be limited, either because of a lack of services or because of other barriers, such as low rates of dental insurance.
In settings such as schools, nursing homes, Head Start programs, and residences of the homebound, public health dental hygienists provide preventive dental care to both children and adults. And their efforts are making an impact. During its first full year, the program served approximately 2,700 Massachusetts residents. In 2012, the number of people who received care topped 6,900 — an increase of 155 percent.
Many of the patients served by public health dental hygienists have had limited access to dental care. Some older patients had never visited a dentist. When the program began in 2011, there were about 12 participating hygienists. Now, there are approximately 24 hygienists serving in every region of the state.
Ms. Gilmore and her practice partner, Liz Chouinard, were among the first group of dental hygienists in the state to be certified for the program. Together, they provide basic examinations, cleanings and other preventive services for patients at community locations throughout the Brockton area. For their pediatric patients, the hygienists also provide important education for both children and their parents, and they often help parents find a dental home for their children with a dentist in the area.
“These dental hygienists perform such an important health service,” said Dr. Brent Martin, of UMMS, and dental director for MassHealth, the Medicaid agency for Massachusetts. “They have proven that this program can assist patients, young and old, in getting the dental health care that they need, which is so important for good health. In addition, they also act as important bridges for continuing care and often refer patients to dentists in the area for ongoing services.”
For more information on the Public Health Dental Hygienist Program and how hygienists can participate, visit tinyurl.com/PHDental
About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest-growing academic health sciences centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $255 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The mission of the Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of Massachusetts and the world, through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery. Commonwealth Medicine, the Medical School’s health care consulting and operations division, provides a wide range of care management and consulting services to government agencies and health care organizations. For more information, visit commend.umassmed.edu
Contact: Tom Lyons
This bill increases the number of dental Hygienists on the Board of Registration in Dentistry(BORID) from 1 to 2, more adequately representing the current number of practicing dental hygienists in Massachusetts. This is an historic moment- It is the first time a dental hygienist has been added to the Board since 1977, when the first hygienist was included as a Board member. As you know, we have been advocating for the passage of this bill throughout the session and are thrilled that we were able to see it passed before the end of the legislative session in December.
Many members of MDHA wrote letters and made calls urging for this bill’s passage and we are very thankful to you for your time and efforts. This type of grassroots advocacy does so much to advance the dental profession and is listened to closely by out legislators. Thank you!
At this time, we want to make sure that we thank those policy makers who were influential in getting us to this point. Please find below the contact information for Governor Patrick’s office, as well as the offices of Rep. Smitty Pignatelli and Sen. Harriette Chandler, who were both instrumental in shepherding this bill through the legislature. Please take a moment to contact these offices and thank them for all of their hard work and their continued support of MDHA and the dental hygiene profession.
The Honorable Deval Patrick
Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor, Room 280
Boston, MA 02133
Representative Smitty Pignatelli
State House, Room 448
Boston, MA 02133
Senator Harriette Chandler
State House, Room 312D
Boston, MA 02133