Since the 2017-18 legislative session began in January, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) and other health care providers and organizations have been working to advance legislation to expand access to preventive dental care. This bill, Assembly Bill 146, was signed into law as Wisconsin Act 20 by Gov. Scott Walker June 21. The bill was co-authored by Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and passed with overwhelming support by both the Assembly and Senate. Act 20 expands the settings in which dental hygienists are allowed to provide, without dentist supervision, preventive oral health care and education.
Dental hygienists are currently allowed to independently practice in schools, dental schools and local public health departments. Under Act 20, dental hygienists will be able to independently provide dental hygiene services in hospitals, outpatient medical clinics, nursing homes, community-based residential facilities, adult family homes, adult day care centers, community rehabilitation programs, hospices, prisons and jails, and through home health agencies, nonprofit dental care programs serving low-income persons, and charitable institutions.
One of the potential outcomes of Act 20 will be the integration of dental hygiene into primary health care visits, especially for young children from birth to age three. Incorporating a dental hygienist into the medical team in a physician’s office may reduce the prevalence of dental disease by allowing the hygienist to begin interacting with children and families as early as six months of age. Ultimately, this may lead to a reduction in emergency department visits for preventable dental conditions and better overall oral health for people in Wisconsin.
Act 20 takes effect June 23, 2017.