PA 161 Dental Hygienists: A Model for Serving the Community

Snell, Brittany, Brittany Bilbrey, and Danielle Becigneul

According to the 2010 Michigan Oral Health Plan, despite progress in reducing dental caries in the United States, individuals in families living below the poverty level experience more dental decay than those who are economically better off. A goal of the oral health plan is to explore workforce model, such as the PA 161 dental hygienist, that can increase access to care for this population. In 2009, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) conducted the fourth annual survey of licensed dental hygienists to gather information about their employment characteristics, education, and work environment. It was revealed that only 7% were very familiar with the PA 161 workforce model and that only 1% were currently practicing PA 161 dental hygienists. The purpose of this study was to educate the public on the Michigan PA 161 workforce model and the impact this oral health professional can have on the community. The objectives were to provide information on the 1.) Demographics of MI PA 161 dental hygienists; 2.) The services they provide; and 3.) What populations and geographic areas have been served.  A thirteen item survey was distributed electronically to a convenience sample of 70 practicing PA 161 dental hygienists. Thirty responses revealed 77% PA 161 RDHs were affiliated with an agency, 23% unaffiliated, and 34,326 people have been served by these individuals. Fifty five percent have associate degrees, 38% have a BS, and 3.5% have MS and/or Certificates. Almost 45% of the PA 161 dental hygienists make less than $5,000/year, with 26% being volunteers. While the data obtained is a limited representation of all practicing PA 161 dental hygienists (n=138), it serves as a foundation for future research.  The fact that 34,326  people have  received care throughout the state of Michigan in numerous counties , most of which are in the dental health professional shortage areas, shows promise in increasing access to care to the underserved populations of Michigan