Mass. mulls advanced dental hygiene practitioner bill

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow dental hygienists to perform routine fillings and extractions and thus improve access to oral healthcare for low-income residents and underprivileged children.

H274 and S998, sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and Rep. William Pignatelli (D-Lenox), respectively, would create an advanced dental hygiene practitioner, according to an Associated Press story.

Dentists voiced concerned about patient safety and the adequacy of the bill's training requirements. But proponents see the bill as an extension of a three-year-old state law that allows hygienists to provide typical dental services in public settings without direct supervision from dentists.

The legislation would also allow these dental practitioners to perform nonsurgical procedures, including extractions or filling small cavities -- but only when such procedures do not require root canal, periodontal surgery, or other more complex intervention.

For current hygienists to become advanced practitioners, they would be required to completed an additional 12 to 18 months of study in a master's level program, along with 500 hours of practice under the direct supervision of a dentist and other requirements.

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