Legislation to Provide Oklahomans Better Access to Oral Health

Jan. 29, 2003
Expanding the hygienist's role will greatly benefit seniors and other underserved populations.

Legislation under consideration by the Oklahoma legislature will improve access to oral health care for Oklahoma's senior citizens and other underserved populations.

HB 1445 adds a significant number of facilities where licensed
dental hygienists may provide dental hygiene services under the supervision of a dentist.

This new legislation means hygienists can work in nursing homes, public health facilities, group homes or residential care facilities, penal institutions, schools, colleges and even a patient's private residence.

According to Oklahoma Dental Association President, Dr. Scott Waugh of Edmond, if passed, the bill will allow seniors, students and others who have a hard time getting to a dental office, greatly improved access to oral health care.

Under an outdated statute, hygiene services currently are available only in dental offices or in hospitals. HB 1445 also allows for dental assistants to work with dentists in the same treatment facilities. The bill is authored by Rep. Fred Stanley (D-Madill), who chairs the House Committee on Public Health.

"This legislation is a direct result of a task force of health care
providers, representing the Oklahoma Dental Association (ODA), the Oklahoma Department of Health, the OU College of Dentistry, the Oklahoma Dental Hygienists' Association, the Oklahoma Dental Assistants Association, representatives of the nursing home industry and the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, working together to develop a plan addressing this significant public health issue," said Dr. Leslie Beitsch, State Commissioner of Health and State Health Officer.

Then-Governor Frank Keating vetoed a similar bill last June, saying that while he supported increased access to dental care for nursing home patients, this must be accomplished in a manner that does not compromise the quality of care they receive. The previous bill would not have required supervision of a
dentist for services provided.

Keating further directed Commissioner Beitsch to work with all the interested parties to reach a solution that increases access and guarantees quality care. HB 1445 is the result of that process.

"The ODA has long supported legislation to provide seniors and other underserved groups better access to dental care," said Waugh. "This bill will make that happen while still providing supervision from a dentist, who can provide diagnosis and handle emergencies."