I agree with some of the statements Ms. O`Hehir makes in the recent RDH article titled, "Are You Trigger-Happy and Ready to Sue?" (January 1997). Namely, there are too many people ready to sue for, as she aptly phrases it, frivolous reasons. In addition, I believe she is correct in stating that educational facilities are too likely to graduate entire classes of dental hygiene students. However, as a member of the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, I take serious issue with several of her other statements.
First, what exactly is the relationship between a doctor performing an appendectomy and a hygienist scaling one quadrant of teeth? Ms. O`Hehir`s comparison suggests that calculus and stain, like the appendix, are vital organs.
Second, the author states that receiving a degree from an accredited hygiene program makes the graduate a safe beginner. This is not necessarily the case. I have nine years experience examining dental hygiene candidates and have evaluated many that would only be safe performing a toothbrush prophy. Currently, state boards have the responsibility of protecting the public from unsafe beginners. Nonetheless, Ms. O`Hehir suggests suing all these boards for their efforts.
Third, Ms. O`Hehir accuses all state boards of malpractice for condoning inadequate patient care. All patients sitting for the North Carolina board are given a consent form to sign and are advised of the possibility of calculus being left, especially in the three quadrants not scaled.
May I offer an addition to Ms. O`Hehir`s "good strong lawsuit" idea? I would suggest the management of RDH replace their senior consulting editor with one that engages in more responsible journalism.
Unfortunately, the author`s frivolous suggestion for dental hygienists to sue will be taken seriously by some to the detriment of all.
J.M. Mullen, DDS
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Editor`s note: Trisha O`Hehir`s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that dental hygienists sue dental examiners and community colleges is unusual, to say the least. Although her hints for litigation were not serious, she did offer some good reasons why the dental hygiene community should be "trigger-happy" with trends in hygiene education. We, of course, have no intention of replacing Ms. O`Hehir. Finally, the point about the "appendectomy" is that the licensed professional performing it does not have to take a clinical examination to do so. The licensed professional removing calculus deposits in the mouth does take a clinical exam for licensure. Go figure.