U.K. hygienists confident in working autonomously

Dental hygienists and hygienist therapists in the U.K. are confident in their ability to work autonomously across a wide range of diagnostic and treatment activities, according to a study in the British Dental Journal (May 27, 2011).

A researcher from King's College London Dental Institute mailed a survey to hygienists, hygienist therapists, and therapists across the U.K. Respondents were asked whether they undertook 15 clinical activities on their own initiative, how comfortable they would feel undertaking such clinical activities if a referral from a dentist were not required, and how they perceived dentists' reactions.

Overall response rate was 65% (n = 150 hygienists, 183 hygienist therapists, and 152 therapists). More than 80% of hygienists and hygienist therapists reported undertaking basic periodontal examinations, history taking, pocket charting, mucosal examinations, and recall interval planning autonomously. Similarly high proportions of hygienist therapists and therapists reported giving local analgesia and choosing restorative materials autonomously. However, fewer than 50% of all three groups said they undertook dental charting, fissure sealing, resin restorations, taking radiographs, and teeth whitening autonomously.

While confidence in undertaking such activities without a dentist's referral was generally high, it was lower in respect to mucosal examinations, identifying suspicious lesions, interpreting radiographs, teeth whitening, and (except for singly qualified dental therapists) diagnosing caries.

These results suggest "high levels of experience and confidence in their ability to work autonomously across a wide range of investigative activities, treatment decision-making and treatment planning," the study author noted.

Earlier studies and policy papers suggest that greater autonomy for these groups may be a desirable workforce planning goal, he added.

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