Jerry Kopel

I have good news and bad news. The good news is there will be more dentists and hygienists practicing in Colorado in future years. The bad news is they will have less time to practice on you.

The state legislature has passed SB 120 by Sen. Steve Johnson and Rep. Lauri Clapp, making substantive changes in the law regarding dentists and hygienists. The governor will likely sign it into law.

Dentists and hygienists presently have to pass an exam given by one of 23 named states in order to immediately practice in Colorado. If the test is not in one of the 23, a dentist and hygienist must have five years of continuous experience immediately preceding the application to practice in Colorado.

That has now been changed to permit testing accredited in any of the fifty states, or any "territory or province". The latter lets in foreign countries. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is not included. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, not a territory, not a state, not a province, and according to the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) 2002 report, not part of a regional testing agency.

Now for the bad news. Beginning July 1, 2003, dentists in Colorado will have to complete 30 hours of mandatory continuing education every two years and dental hygienists will have to complete 24 hours of mandatory continuing education every two years.

This was NOT suggested by DORA which oversees dentists and hygienists. It apparently came from the occupations to avoid internecine warfare. Colorado dentists and dental hygienists have NEVER been required to take mandatory education courses in order to practice. An attempt to do so was made in 1979 and defeated.

No one denies the usefulness of continuing education for those who seek it. But since 1979, DORA's policy has been not to support mandatory programs unless tests are given to show knowledge gained by the attendee. The reason? A series of studies that showed (and continue to show) mandatory continuing education courses (for all occupations) do not produce better practitioners.

The last count by DORA in 2002 found 3,701 active dentists and 3,205 active hygienists. If a dentist takes 15 hours each year that's 55,501 hours of lectures attended. For hygienists taking 12 hours per year, that's 38,460 hours when your teeth are not being cleaned, oral disease is not being controlled and oral health not being promoted.

The dental board isn't going to spend time or staff supervising the courses taken and credits counted. They are busy disciplining, and writing rules. They will set up continuing education boards for dentists and hygienists who will be required to pay a fee to the continuing ed. administrators, the amount to be determined by the dental board. Of course, that's in addition to costs of lectures.

One suggestion. The dental board will NOT go for testing. But at least require someone who leaves the lecture before it's over to sign out and then sign back in, in front of a supervisor. Or else some dentists and hygienists might end up at the swimming pool in the luxury hotel while the lectures are given.

Of course mandatory continuing education requirements are tax deductible, so that's less tax money from dentists and hygienists to put into the state's general revenue fund.

Another change, agreed on by the dentists and hygienists was to reduce the power of public members, who now hold three of 10 dental board seats. The other seven seats are held by five dentists and two hygienists. Under the new 13 member board there are seven dentists, three hygienists and three public members.

I always thought my dentist and hygienist knew exactly what they were doing without being forcibly lectured to. Didn't you?

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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