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What’s in Senate Bill 146, the Dental Legislation Recently Signed Into North Carolina Law?

A landmark piece of dentistry legislation became law in North Carolina on Friday, July 23, 2021. Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Senator Jim Perry, with a House counterpart sponsored by Representative Donny Lambeth, is a broad-reaching piece of oral health legislation that will allow North Carolina to take several steps toward a more accessible, equitable oral health care future.

There are four main parts of the legislation:

  1. It codifies teledentistry in North Carolina law.
  2. It allows dental hygienists with proper training and qualifications to administer local anesthesia.
  3. It further aligns two existing regulatory provisions that allow dental hygienists to more efficiently work in community-based settings.
  4. For the first time, it formally recognizes Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in North Carolina statute.

All parts of the legislation went into effect when the bill was signed into law on July 23, except for the section allowing hygienists to administer local anesthesia. That portion of the bill is set to take effect on October 1, 2021.

Teledentistry is Codified in North Carolina Law

Teledentistry is an important tool in the dental professional’s toolbox. In addition to being an invaluable asset during the COVID-19 pandemic, remote care technology is a great way to expand access to patient evaluations, consultations, assessments, and education to those who may have trouble getting into a brick-and-mortar dental office.

While teledentistry has never been “illegal” in North Carolina, there have not been set standards defining its use.

Senate Bill 146 defines teledentistry, lays out the various ways it can be used, and sets standards for informed consent during remote patient encounters. It also establishes patient protections, authorizing the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners (NCSBDE) to take disciplinary action against dentists who allow fee-splitting or who limit a patient’s ability to file complaints or grievances when receiving teledental services.

Dental Hygienists Will Be Able to Administer Local Anesthesia

North Carolina joins 45 other states and Washington, D.C. in taking this important step.

Currently in North Carolina, dentists are the only oral health professionals authorized to administer local dental anesthesia. . Especially in public health settings — where providers routinely see high numbers of patients — the time it takes to administer local anesthesia and wait for it to take effect can create a bottleneck, limiting the dental team’s efficiency.

By allowing appropriately credentialed hygienists to perform this duty, dental teams can take steps to increase efficiency, reduce care costs, and ultimately expand their reach in treating additional patients. As mentioned above, this provision of the legislation will take effect on October 1, 2021.

Rules Pertaining to Public Health Hygienists and Limited Supervision Hygienists are Further Aligned

The regulatory rules within Dental Hygiene Subchapters 16W (defining what it means to be a public health hygienist) and 16Z (outlining eligibility to practice hygiene outside of direct supervision by a dentist) contained similar provisions, with a grey area where eligibility requirements were unclear. Senate Bill 146 aims to further align these provisions and the eligibility requirements that hygienists must meet to practice in limited supervision capacities.

For background, a 2020 update to Subchapter 16W allowed public health hygienists to perform preventive procedures in non-traditional settings under a written standing order from a dentist, rather than with a dentist having previously examined the patient.

Senate Bill 146 lays the groundwork for the same eligibility criteria to apply for hygienists practicing outside of direct supervision under Subchapters 16W or 16Z. For true alignment, a modification to rule 16W .0104 will need to be made.

If you would like more information to clarify 16W, 16Z, and the changes made by this recent legislation, NCOHC will be hosting informational sessions in the coming months.

Federally Qualified Health Centers are Recognized in Statute as Public Health Providers

Senate Bill 146’s passage marks the first time that Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) have been formally recognized in North Carolina law within the Dental Practice Act. While this may seem insignificant, it solves key barriers that many faced when trying to expand access to care.

When Rule 21 NCAC 16W .0104 was updated to allow public health hygienists to perform preventive procedures outside of direct supervision and based on a written standing order, FQHCs found themselves unable to efficiently take advantage of the change. Many FQHCs offer school-based oral health care services, but since their designation wasn’t clear, they were limited by legislative barriers in order to use the rule change to expand the services they offered most effectively.

Senate Bill 146 resolves this issue, identifying FQHCs as an integral component of the public health safety net.

There are many improvements for oral health access and equity contained within Senate Bill 146, and NCOHC will continue to break down all the ins and outs that you need to know. Stay up to date by joining us as a North Carolinian for Change today!