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Only two states away: What you need to know about the Dental Hygiene Compact license

April 24, 2024
The Dental Hygiene Compact license is moving forward. If you have concerns, you’re not alone. But there are some good things too. Here’s what you need to know about this important licensure concept.

If you have not already heard, a Dental Hygiene Compact license is in the works! Looking more and more like a reality, the dental professional compact licensure was first drafted in January of 2023.1 While this concept has been discussed in previous years, many dental professionals, health-care boards, and state legislation argued that the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the dental staff shortage finally pushed compact licensure closer to a reality.1,2 As of today, two more states must enact the dental compact license for it to become legal.1

Currently, dental professionals must be licensed by each state they practice in.1 Individual state licensure has been accepted from the beginning in hopes of better monitoring the dental providers who are registered in the state and ensuring that they are meeting all of the required standards.2 Not all states require the same standards for a dental professional to become licensed.2,3 While many dental professionals and patients are excited about the idea of one professional license to work in multiple states, others have raised concerns.3,4

Why some are concerned about compact licensure

Some dental professionals have argued that the current drafted guidelines governing the dental compact license are not enough. They believe that the guidelines to monitor dental professionals with previous disciplinary actions or criminal convictions could be stricter.3 The Council of State Governments argues that each state will have a database to track dental professionals who actively hold a compact license.2,3

There are also arguments to be made about what kind of education is needed for one to be granted a compact dental license.3,4 The Council of State Governments points out that those applying for a compact license would already have to be licensed in one state, thus passing state requirements. But because some states require more (or less) than other states, arguments could be made that this standard is not enough.2-4

Compact licensure and the nursing profession

While these concerns are valid and raise good points, we are not the first health-care professionals to have a compact license and have mixed feelings about it; nurses have walked this road before.

Almost 30 years ago, the nursing profession first drafted the idea of a compact license. The Nursing Licensure Compact started gaining various states’ approval when they noticed in the early 2000s that medical clinics and offices would not have to worry about nursing shortages if more providers could be licensed in that area.5,6

However, in 2015, the same questions that are being raised about the dental compact license—i.e., criminal background checks and education standards—were made in the nursing profession. The original nursing compact license had the best intentions and goals, but it was not enough; it had to be reformed and revised.

In 2017, the updated nursing compact license was released.5,6 This newly revised compact license focused more strongly on educational standards, background checks, and disciplinary actions.5,6 More than 30 states and some US territories have accepted the reformed nursing compact license.

Without so many states participating in the compact nursing license, many fear that the shortage of nurses seen during the COVID-19 pandemic would have been much worse because nurses would have been too restricted to move freely and help communities that were hit harder by SARS-CoV-2. Having a compact license for nurses may have saved lives in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Dentistry can learn from history

Now, with dental professionals also facing a shortage, compact licensure may benefit our profession in a similar way that it benefited nurses. Perhaps the drafted compact license also needs to have stricter educational standards, background checks, and disciplinary actions for more state dental boards to accept it.

At the end of the day, dental professionals are there to provide effective and proficient care for patients. No matter which state you practice in, we all want to provide quality care. Whenever the dental professional compact license passes, hopefully we will have gained so much insight from our nursing colleagues that our compact license won’t need to be revised.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Clinical Insights newsletter, a publication of the Endeavor Business Media Dental Group. Read more articles and subscribe.


  1. Dentist and Dental Hygienists Compact. The Council of State Governments. 2024.
  2. Thomas, J. DDH Compact: Working toward dentist and dental hygienist license reciprocity across state lines. RDH magazine. January 9, 2024.
  3. Dentist and Dental Hygienists Compact: frequently asked questions. The Council of State Governments. 2024.
  4. Klemmann D. Counterpoint: DDH Compact and license reciprocity. RDH magazine. March 27, 2024.
  5. Ascend Editorial Team. Milian J. A brief history of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Ascend. 2022.
  6. Gaines, K. Compact nursing states list 2024. Updated April 9, 2024.

Tracee S. Dahm, MS, BSDH, RDH, is an adjunct clinical instructor for the North Idaho College School of Dental Hygiene in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and she also works in private practice. She has been published in several dental journals, magazines, webinars, and a textbook. Tracee’s research interests include trends in dental hygiene and improving access to dental care for the underserved. Contact her at [email protected].