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Elderly and Poor May Get Free Dental Care in Georgia. Are They at Risk of Injury?

Recent reports indicate that Georgia is about to pass legislation to allow dental hygienists to work on patients without dentists present. Dental Association officials said in the past that they were concerned about the safety of patients, but they agreed to support the measure this year.

Under the legislation, dental hygienists would be allowed to do basic cleaning and preventive care in so-called “safety-net settings,” which would be qualified health centers, school-based health clinics and dental offices without a dentist present. While there certainly is a need for more access to dental care, the counter balancing concern is safety for these patients who will not be seen by board certified dentists. Since only about 25% of dentists who practice in Georgia accept Medicaid, this law may provide a low-cost way for the elderly and poor to find affordable preventative dental care in Georgia. However, which dental procedures will these hygienists be performing without supervision and what is the expected protocol if the patient is in need of emergency dental care. Or, more importantly, who will perform dental screenings to rule out serious and/or potential life-threatening conditions such as serious abscesses, oral cancer or tumors in the head, neck, gums or tongue.

As a practical matter, the work that hygienists perform now in dental offices is not actively overseen by dentists anyway. The hygienist performs the cleaning and then the dentist comes into the treatment room to inspect the results of the cleaning and perform and oral exam. Many times, the oral exam is the most important part of the process, especially with poor or elderly patients who may, due to a number of reasons, have a higher risk of cancer or other conditions that could be spotted by a thorough oral exam conducted by a board-certified dentist in Georgia.

In Georgia, there are currently a number of very good non-profit organizations which provide no cost or low cost dental care to those in need. The cost is based on the ability to pay and the care and treatment is preformed by board certified dentists and qualified specialists such as oral surgeons, endodontists and periodontist, as well as general dentists who are able to perform some of the dental services that may be performed by specialists in other settings. This is a good model and I hope that there are more of these organizations in the future.

Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dental malpractice, bus accidents, car accident cases and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties and nearby cities including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured and would like discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.