Purpose: Given the legalization of administration of local anesthesia as an expanded function for dental hygienists in Arkansas, the purpose of this study was to 1) describe the utilization of local anesthesia in dental hygiene care; 2) compare the utilization of local anesthesia by dental hygienists certified in the administration of local anesthesia and those who were not; 3) determine if there was a difference in attitude toward the use of local anesthesia for dental hygiene procedures between dental hygienists certified in the expanded function versus those not certified; 4) determine if and to what degree employers delegate this procedure to certified employees; and 5) compare employer satisfaction with this expanded function for those who employed a certified dental hygienist and those who did not.
Methods: Surveys were sent to all Arkansas dental hygienists certified, as of June 1998, to administer local anesthesia as well as an equal random sample of Arkansas dental hygienists not certified in the expanded function. The dentist employers of these dental hygienists also were asked to complete a companion survey. These surveys included demographic items as well as questions about the demand for and utilization of local anesthesia by dental hygienists. Additionally, the surveys included an opinionnaire section concerning attitudes toward and perceptions of the administration of local anesthesia by dental hygienists.
Results: An overall response rate of 31% (n = 182) was achieved for the survey of the dental hygienist sample (n = 580). Forty-one percent of the surveys (n = 118) were returned by the dental hygienists certified in the administration of local anesthesia, while 22% (n = 64) of the surveys were returned by those not certified in the function. An approximate response rate of 25% (n = 146) was achieved for the surveys of the dentist employers. Findings indicate that the respondents perceived local anesthesia as beneficial for both dental hygiene patients and clinicians. Arkansas dental hygienists and dentists reported that this function had a positive impact on scheduling, production, patient satisfaction and comfort, and quality of care. Furthermore, more than nine out of 10 of the dentist respondents were satisfied with their dental hygienists local anesthesia skills and/or would encourage their uncertified dental hygienists to become certified. Dental hygienists certified in the function reported utilizing this technique moderately to fully for patient care, particularly for those in practices with greater numbers of periodontally involved patients. Certified dental hygienists also viewed local anesthesia as contributing to the quality of patient care and necessary for dental hygiene procedures.
Conclusions: Results of this study provide evidence that local anesthesia benefits dental hygiene patients and clinicians. Both Arkansas dental hygienists and dentists viewed this expanded function as necessary for provision of quality dental hygiene care. The dentist employers of certified dental hygienists reported that the function had a positive impact on scheduling, production, patient satisfaction and comfort, and quality of care.