Canadian dental hygienists celebrate independence

Sept. 28, 2007
Ontario hygienists note changes that improve public access by allowing dental hygienists the freedom to clean teeth outside the traditional dental office without a procedural "order" from a dentist.

Dental hygienists have achieved independence after a 14-year campaign to remove the restrictions that tie dental hygiene to dentistry. Amendments to the Dental Hygiene Act, which the Canadian government recently put into force, improve public access to preventive oral care services by allowing dental hygienists the freedom to clean teeth outside the traditional dental office without a procedural "order" from a dentist.

"This is a major breakthrough for the public and for the profession of dental hygiene," said Melanie Doyle, president of the Ontario Dental
Hygienists' Association (ODHA). There are approximately 9,000 practising dental hygienists in the province.

"The new legislation has the potential to change the way preventive care is offered in Ontario," she said. "Dental hygiene is a mobile profession. With restrictions removed, dental hygienists can take their services where they are needed, subject to regulatory college standards and procedures."

Amendments to the Act are contained in Bill 171, which was initiated by George Smitherman, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. He said, "The McGuinty government recognizes the important role that dental hygienists play in oral care and the benefits for the public. The ability to work independently is a significant step forward for the profession and one that will increase access to dental hygiene care for many Ontarians."

The public will be able to choose their healthcare provider and obtain affordable, professional oral care treatment when and where they need it. Those who will benefit most are low-income families, the uninsured, and those who are physically unable to get to a dental office such as the sick or the homebound, residents in long-term care homes and those living in remote areas.

"This is a very exciting time for dental hygiene," said Ms. Doyle. "For several years we have been actively pushing for independence and our efforts have paid off. This is truly a momentous achievement for all those who supported ODHA and worked so hard on this issue."

ODHA Executive Director Margaret Carter calls the new legislative
amendments a turning point in the profession's history and in the delivery of healthcare in Ontario. "By making accessible oral care a reality, the government has recognized dental hygiene as a major contributor and partner in Ontario's healthcare system," she said.

Throughout the legislative process, ODHA worked closely with the
provincial government and helped shape the amendments to the Dental Hygiene Act. "We are proud of this very important piece of legislation," said Minister Smitherman. "The ODHA is to be applauded for keeping the lines of communication open and for working together with the dental profession to bring this issue forward."

Established in 1963, the ODHA advocates for the profession. Dental
hygiene is one of the largest of the regulated health professions in the province. In Ontario, all dental hygienists are registered with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, which regulates the profession to ensure the public receives safe and effective oral healthcare.

For more information, contact The Ontario Dental Hygienists' Association at
800-315-6342, or e-mail [email protected].