For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - Independent practice dental hygienists will soon be able to take X-rays and own radiograph equipment under a bill signed into law recently by Governor LePage. The X-rays must be read by a dentist within 21 days.
"Maine has a significant and growing shortage of dental care," said State Rep. Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough), who co-sponsored the enabling legislation, LD 1891. "In Maine, the primary reason for visits to emergency departments is dental pain. The cost runs into millions of dollars every year. Early detection and referrals for dental disease can help reduce these costs and better serve the patients."
Rep. Sirocki, a registered dental hygienist, said the pilot project authorized by the new law will expand more affordable dental care to underserved parts of Maine, often in rural areas. "All registered hygienists are board certified and licensed to perform radiographs," she said. "Additionally, the independent practice dental hygienist [IPDH] has a minimum of 2,000 hours of practice and is therefore highly qualified to perform all duties within the dental hygiene scope of practice."
There are about 40 IPDHs in Maine and another 10 or so who have certifications pending. They operate throughout the state.
Last year, Rep. Sirocki submitted a bill, LD 230, to enable IPDHs to process radiographs in a two-year pilot program limited to federally designated underserved areas of the state. That bill passed with overwhelming support and was signed by the governor. During rulemaking, however, the Board of Dental Examiners changed the legislative intent by restricting the permissible types of X-rays, which hindered the pilot project.
"The proposed rules significantly weakened the program by allowing two types of bite wing and periapical X-rays," Rep Sirocki said. "They did not permit the so-called 'full mouth series' (FMS), also known as the complete series. This was puzzling, since the FMS is comprised of both periapicals and bite wings, which were permissible. By limiting the radiographs, an IPDH would find it difficult to justify the investment in expensive equipment and this, in turn, would significantly affect the outcome of the pilot.
"With my own experience as a dental hygienist, I recognize the value of a full mouth series and of panoramic images in detecting asymptomatic lesions," she added. "Early detection and early treatment help limit emergency room visits, and that is the most important goal of the pilot - improved access to care."
The newly enacted bill, LD 1891, was actually submitted by Governor LePage and sponsored in the Legislature by Sen. Earle McCormick (R-Kennebec), the Senate chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. It clarifies the legislative intent of the pilot by listing specifically the types of radiographs that an IPDH may perform.
"Independent practice hygienists with radiography equipment will offer a valuable and more affordable service to parts of the state where the need is greatest, within a defined and controlled study," Rep. Sirocki said.
She noted that in 2011, a third of Mainers had put off a dental appointment because of the cost. One out of five third-graders in the state has untreated decay. Children with unhealthy teeth grow into adults with unhealthy teeth. "Maine's shortage of dentists affects more than our smiles," Rep. Sirocki said. "It has a big effect on individual lives." ###
Maine House Republicans
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