Union Leader: Mouth to mouth: Improving oral health care

There are ways to improve the health of low-income people without creating expensive government programs. Sometimes all it takes is a change in the law to let people help others when they want to.

That is the goal of Senate Bill 284. It would let dental hygienists work in New Hampshire as roving public health professionals, sort of the way doctors do in Third World countries. Yes, that would be a good thing.

Dental care is expensive, and that keeps a lot of people from visiting dentists’ offices. SB 284 would help with that problem by creating a special category of practitioner called a Certified Public Health Dental Hygienist. Any licensed dental hygienist could take the extra training needed to get that state certificate. Once it is obtained, it would allow the hygienist to go “into the field,” so to speak, to treat people in need of oral health care. Hygienists could treat patients in their homes or at schools, hospitals or other institutions. The hygienist would work under the indirect supervision of a licensed dentist.

Sure, there are more customary ways of serving people in need of dental care. The state could finance expensive dental health clinics, for instance. But why create a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy when a change in the law will allow competent professionals to provide the care on their own?

Allowing a lower-cost alternative is one good way to help reduce health care expenditures while increasing access to care. Though it might be a little heavy on the regulations, SB 284 is a small step toward achieving both of those goals.