A Sacramento judge has denied a bid by an association of 14,000 California dentists to halt a pilot project run by California State University, Northridge, in which dental hygienists provide checkups and cleanings without the supervision of a dentist.
The California Dental Assn. had filed suit to stop the project, which is the first effort in the United States to assess the performance and economic viability of independent practices by dental hygienists, according to the Chicago-based American Dental Hygienists Assn. The suit alleged that the project posed a threat to public health.
Saying the dental association failed to offer sufficient evidence that the project would irreparably harm the public, Superior Court Judge Eugene T. Gualco on Friday refused to grant a restraining order stopping the program.
But Gualco approved a second request from the dental association that the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development be required to show that it had followed rules and regulations when it approved the project. A hearing is scheduled May 29 in Sacramento Superior Court.
The dental association suit, alleging that state health officials had not adequately reviewed the program, named as defendants the trustees of California State University, the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and 15 dental hygienists who have already completed the training portion of the program.
Dental hygienists can practice without the supervision of a dentist in Colorado, but the program is the first effort to test hygienists' independent performance under closely monitored conditions, said Connie Tussing, president of the 30,000-member American Dental Hygienists Assn.
The California Dental Hygienists Assn., which first conceived of the program, preferred to run a test of the idea before seeking legislation that would legalize the practice here, said Tobelle Segal, who helped create the program.
In California, licensed dental hygienists can only practice under the supervision of a dentist. The project is allowed to circumvent that regulation because it was approved under a 1972 law which allows otherwise illegal experiments in alternative health care to proceed under carefully monitored conditions.