Changes give patients direct access and more choice, says local dental hygienist.

NEW laws that offer patients direct access to dental hygienists will help promote better oral health, according to local health professionals.

Changes which came into play on May 1 mean that patients can visit a dental hygienist or dental therapist without needing a referral from their dentist.

Dental hygienist Dee Benton, of the Quay Dental Practice in Bideford, said that the removal of barriers by the General Dental Council would give patients better choice and mean more people will get their mouths checked more regularly.

She said: “Since 1945 patients had to be referred by their dentist – they were not able to just come in off the street.

“The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy has been fighting for this change since the Nuffield Report 20 years ago. It was first recommended back then and I think it’s a good thing for the profession, but mostly for the patient.

“It will give more people access to preventive treatment and give them a better choice of where they select their treatment from.

“If a patient goes to a practice with no hygienist they can still keep their dentist and go and see a hygienist somewhere else.”

Mrs Benton said the changes had been met with some small pockets of resistance but she believed it was a ‘win-win’ situation for the profession.

“Some dentists are frightened of this because they fear it will take their jobs but I think it will actually bring more people into dental practices. The dentists at this practice certainly see it as an advantage.

“People who are frightened of visiting the dentist may now make the first step to come and see someone like myself to get their mouths looked at and their oral hygiene needs addressed, which could then give them the confidence to re-visit their dentist for any dental care that is not within the remit of the dental hygienist or therapist.

“Dentists are more about fixing teeth whereas hygienists are more about prevention of problems.

“We can offer a range of treatment and advice to help prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

“Some people come because their teeth are dirty and they want them cleaned but they also go away with advice about how to keep their teeth and keep them clean.”