Senate signs off on anesthesia for hygienists

Mar 2, 2012

Next time you visit the dentist it could be the dental hygienist who numbs your gums. Regan McCarthy reports that’s one rule relating to dentistry that a measure moving through the legislature could change.

Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff says her bill would let dental hygienist administer local anesthesia. But Bogdanoff, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale, says that’s only under the direct supervision of a dentist and after the hygienist has demonstrated the skill on a live patient.

“That would be Senator Gibson.”

But Senator Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Hollywood, says the proposal makes her nervous.

“I know that nurses and LPNs give shots, but this is a special kind of shot, this is a special kind of shot that blocks a nerve ending. And I believe that a lot more training and a lot more expertise need to be involved in this kind of procedure and that’s why we have dentists.”

And Sobel says she isn’t comforted by the fact that the bill specifies the anesthesia must be administered under the direct supervision of a dentist.

“I know they say direct supervision, but the dentist will be in the facility, not in the room, when this block is given to a nerve.”

But the piece of the bill drawing the most debate is a provision that sets out bench marks a person must meet in order to work as a dental hygienist. It includes language that would bar a person from practicing dentistry if they’ve been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor related to the healthcare profession. Bogdanoff gives an example of when something like that might happen.

“So it would be say, an abuse situation. For instance there was a dentist in my community that broke the arm of a particular patient because they were to aggressive in restraining them. And that would preclude them in the future. But, its not any type of felony that would occur, it has specifically to do within the profession that they practice.”

But Senator Chris Smith, a Democrat from Oakland Park, says he’s not sure the rule should draw such a hard line.

“I just have fundamental concerns with forever baring someone from a profession. I understand that 99-percent of the time if someone creates a felony in healthcare, they should be barred from practicing in that field, but there’s that one percent that may be out there, something may happen and so just fundamentally, I have concerns with forever barring someone based on an action they took, could be decades ago.”

And Senator Maria Sachs, a Democrat from Delray says there are already protections in place to govern this type of thing.

“Every profession has licenses applications and requirements, especially in health care, so that is someone commits a crime, they have to go back and prove their competency in spite of this prior run-in with the law. So I think we’re just adding more regulations and restrictions to people getting good jobs.”

Bogdanoff says she’s willing to work to remove the provision that would bar those convicted of a healthcare crime from practicing.

“What I’d like the opportunity to do, is send it over to the House talk to the hygienist and the dentists, because for the first time in many, many years, they actually agree on something and that’s how this bill came about. If they have a willingness to take that part out, which I believe they would, listening to your concerns, we can have it taken out and bounced back over to the Senate.”

The measure passed through the Senate with a vote of 33 to 7. It’s waiting in messages in the House.