Mass. dental hygienist program aids access to care

A unique dental hygienist program in Massachusetts has been expanded through a new grant from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).

The Public Health Dental Hygienist Program began operating in 2011 as a demonstration project through a grant from UMMS, according to the school. The program allows 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, particularly among residents at the highest risk for dental disease, such as low-income children, seniors, and the developmentally disabled. For pediatric patients, the hygienists also provide 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.

During its first 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%. When the program began, there were about 12 participating hygienists; now there are 24 hygienists serving every region of the state.

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