Florida Dental Hygiene Association: Improve Access to Oral Health Care

Nov 30, 2009



If improvement in the nation’s health care system is to occur, more equitable access to basic quality oral health care at affordable costs is necessary.Unfortunately, most dental practices can’t afford to accept many Medicaid recipients, thereby practically denying critical access to dental care for indigent patients.

Many of Florida’s children and others are showing up in pain at hospital emergency rooms with untreated dental decay.  In fact, dental caries (decay) is the most common chronic disease nationally affecting 53 percent of 6-8 year-olds and 84 percent of 17 year-olds.2

A number of states have undertaken various strategies to address the access-to-oral-health problem by providing incentives to health care providers to serve people enrolled in Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Registered dental hygienists are competent to provide services in a variety of settings accessible to patients:  residences of the homebound, public health and school-based programs, community clinics and more.  Licensed dental hygienists are educated and qualified to perform oral health care services.  Furthermore, dental hygienists serve as an efficient pipeline for identifying and referring those patients who need the care of a dentist.

Currently in Florida, a registered dental hygienist can legally perform an oral screening on a patient, but there is no provision for reimbursement.  Initiatives to expand funding programs that help people pay for dental services, including the means to reimburse dental hygienists’ services, are necessary to address the financial barriers to oral health care. However, it is just as important to remove unnecessary restrictions on dental hygiene practice and to take measures to encourage dental hygienists to practice in underserved areas, as well as in settings where patients’ inability to reach dental facilities is a problem.

Licensed dental hygienists, by virtue of their comprehensive education and clinical preparation, are well prepared to deliver preventive oral health care services to the public, safely and effectively.

The Florida Dental Hygiene Association asks Florida’s lawmakers to support legislation allowing the State’s registered dental hygienists to deliver oral health care services in public health settings.


1. American Dental Hygiene Association 2001 Access to Care Position Paper, 2001.

2. National Institute of Dental Research, 1986-1987. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 1989.


Note:  An attached press release from the Health Department of Northwest Michigan details the recent death of a mentally-impaired woman who died from a dental infection that was left untreated because she lost virtually all oral health insurance coverage because of the elimination of the Adult Dental Medicaid Benefit from the State’s budget.



Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Trevor Mask (tmask@cftlaw.com) at Colodny Fass.