B.C. health minister proposes allowing dental hygienists to treat patients who haven't seen dentist in previous year

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      Six million Canadians do not visit the dentist each year due to cost, according to federal NDP health critic Don Davies.

      The NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway has insisted that access to medically necessary dental care should be a right in Canada.

      "It's time that we do the hard work to start exploring adding dental care to our universal public health-care system as well—and NDP MPs will fight for that," Davies told supporters at his nomination meeting in January.

      One of those attending the meeting was Adrian Dix, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway.

      Now, Davies is getting some concrete help in achieving his goal of expanding dental care from his friend Dix, who is also the provincial health minister.

      Today, Dix announced that he wants to let dental hygienists and denturists treat patients regardless of whether they have been examined by a dentist over the previous year.

      The elimination of the 365-day rule would involve adjusting regulations applying to dental hygienists, dental technicians, denturists, and dentists.

      “Dental hygienists do outstanding work and advocacy to improve oral health care for British Columbians,” Dix said in a government news release. “We are posting proposed regulation changes intended to give people more choice regarding their oral health care. The proposed changes are important for dental hygienists and patients, and I invite dental workers and the public to provide their input on this proposal.”

      Dental hygienists clean teeth and provide therapeutic and preventive care, according to the release. Denturists repair and reline prescription-authorized dentures.

      These practitioners would still be required to let patients know that a dental exam should be conducted. But if the rule change is approved, the patient would make the final determination.

      Under the Health Professions Act, three months' notice is required, giving the public and stakeholders an opportunity to reply.

      The announcement was made on a Friday afternoon going into a long weekend.

      Normally, that's a time when governments release news that they hope will not receive a great deal of attention.

      So far, there's been no response from the B.C. Dental Association.

      Video: In 2011 public health advocate Melanie Spence talked to the Straight about the Smile With Dignity campaign to get dental care covered under the Medical Services Plan.

      It shouldn't come as a surprise that politicians who represent East Vancouver ridings are raising this issue. That's because people have been organizing around expanding dental care for many years on the East Side.

      Back in 2011, the Straight covered the Alliance for People's Health's extensive grassroots effort in Mount Pleasant to get dental care covered under the Medical Services Plan of B.C.

      At the time, the "Smile With Dignity" campaign organizer, Melanie Spence, highlighted the high societal costs of poor oral care.

      "People who don't have all their teeth or who feel badly about their teeth have told us that they can't get a job, they feel embarrassed in a lot of social situations, and, in addition, they can't get the proper nutrition that they need," she said. "So it does lead to a lot of other health problems."