A bill that advocates say would boost access to dentistry, especially in the state’s rural areas, is sailing through the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, has received nearly unanimous support in both chambers. After minor revisions in the House, the Senate could reconsider the legislation Wednesday, July 21. From there, it would go to Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to sign it.
“This is a relatively noncontroversial bill,” Jordan Roberts, government affairs associate at the John Locke Foundation, told Carolina Journal.
The legislation would establish regulatory standards for teledentistry, or online consultations. The bill would provide that teledentistry include both a North Carolina licensed dentist and a state-licensed dental hygienist — under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
Roberts said this falls in line with the increased usage of telemedicine, which allows doctors to consult with patients via internet teleconferencing software.
The bill would also allow registered dental hygienists to administer local anesthetic to a patient while under the supervision of a licensed dentist, becoming one of the last states to adopt this rule, according to JD Supra. Dental hygienists could also perform dentistry at schools without the presence of a dentist, under the legislation.
“I think both of these aspects of the bill would provide more and better access to dental care in North Carolina,” Roberts said. “The bill expands the capability of these practices to offer more care.”
The need for more teledentistry arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. N.C. Health News reported that dentists can coach patients to photograph their mouths for examination and offer consultation through video chat.
“The practice, born of necessity in the midst of a global health crisis, offered a path to help address a long-standing and widespread need in North Carolina’s health system: access to oral health care,” the website says.
More than 2 million North Carolinians struggle to receive adequate dental care, and residents in 98 of the state’s 100 counties live in a region designated as a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area, according to the American Dental Association.
The bill has received plenty of support from North Carolina dentists and the Association of Dental Support Organizations. Roberts notes that dentists in the state have long advocated for dental hygienists to be given more freedom to practice their craft, especially given the fewer regulations that most other states impose on them.