Nearly 2.5 million North Carolina residents live in areas with a shortage of dental care, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. A proposed rule change would let the state use dental hygienists to help fill the oral health gap.
The proposed change would let dental hygienists working in high-need areas do teeth cleanings without a dentist present. It would also allow them to apply sealants, a protective coating for teeth designed to help prevent cavities.
Dental hygienists usually have at least two years of training.
Under the new rule, hygienists could offer services in public health settings like schools and free clinics. They would not be permitted to open their own practices.
The change would help more residents get necessary dental care, according to Alec Parker, executive director of the North Carolina Dental Society.
“The areas of the state that are going to benefit the most are going to be those areas where dental access is a problem. So in North Carolina specifically, I would say eastern North Carolina and far western North Carolina, for sure,” Parker said.
Cabarrus, Union, Catawba, Cleveland, Anson, Stanly and Rowan counties are among the North Carolina locations with a shortage of dental care, according to a federal report.
North Carolina’s Rules Review Commission will review the proposed change on January 16. If approved, it could take effect as early as February.