Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess aspects of the quality of care provided by dental hygienists in a California demonstration project in which hygienists treated patients independent of dentists' supervision.
Methods: The structure and process of care were evaluated in nine independent practices using site visits and reviews of 25 records at each practice. The findings were compared to evaluations of six general dentist practices reviewed for a government agency and insurance company during the same time period. Patient satisfaction was assessed by a questionnaire.
Results: The structural aspects of the unsupervised hygienist practices were generally acceptable and surpassed the dentist practices in most areas, including infection control. For process, the hygienist practices had high percentages of acceptable care and were significantly better than the dentist practices in several areas, including follow-up to medical findings, updating the medical history at recall, and documenting the evaluation of the periodontal status and soft tissues. Ninety-eight percent of patients expressed satisfaction with their care in hygienist practices.
Conclusion: Under the circumstances of the demonstration project and the methods used to assess the quality of care, the study showed that independent dental hygienist practice did not increase the risk to the health and safety of the public.