State Board Meeting Update: Should dental hygienists be required to carry their own separate liability policy?

Molly Pereira Featured News

November 17, 2011

At the Nov. 2 meeting of the Colorado State Board of Dental Examiners, one topic of debate was whether dental hygienists in Colorado should be required to carry liability insurance separate from the dental practice policy.

The requirement that dental hygienists be covered by a malpractice insurance policy was added to the state dental practice law in 2009, when unsupervised dental hygiene practice was expanded to allow dental hygiene diagnosis, radiographic imaging, and preparation of study casts. With these scope of practice expansions and additions of responsibility to unsupervised dental hygiene practice, it was necessary to ensure that the public was adequately protected. However, the malpractice coverage requirement was left broad enough to allow a dental hygienist to carry an individual liability insurance policy or be covered by the policy of a supervising dentist.

The Colorado Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) is now recommending that each individual dental hygienist be required to carry his/her own unique liability policy. To support their position, CDHA cites the following facts:
• Dental hygienists often work in multiple practice settings.
• Coverage is inexpensive ($70-$120 per year).
• Legal cases in other states have not provided adequate coverage to dental hygienists in disputes.
• Dental hygienists have the ultimate liability for a policy that someone else controls. (If a dentist didn’t have the proper rider on his/her policy or the dentist drops coverage for the dental hygienist without communicating the change, the dental hygienist could be exposed.)

On the contrary, there have been concerns that having a dentist and a dental hygienist covered by separate policies could result in battles between malpractice insurers during disputes, including finger pointing and blame rather than focus on remediation to the patient. It also raises the question of liability to the dentist if a dental hygienist, who is responsible for his/her own malpractice insurance, does not adequately maintain the coverage and an incident happens within the dental practice.

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If you or your dental hygienists have additional comments to offer on this topic, please contact CDA Director of Governmental Relations Jennifer Goodrum at 303-996-2847 or

Additional topics of discussion at the Nov. 2 Board meeting included:
• How military training and experience will be counted toward qualifications for licensure, especially in relation to dental hygiene training programs.
• Whether instruction to satisfy current competency requirements for original licensure should be provided only by academic institutions, or whether both private programs and individuals can also provide this type of instruction.
• Challenges with the Board’s charge to monitor the number of exam retakes that a candidate is allowed for dental licensure, given implications of numerous uncoordinated regional examinations.
• Whether condensed dental hygiene educational programs met the state’s requirement of “two academic years” for a dental hygiene program’s length.

Also, an update was provided on the vacant positions on the Board. There are currently vacant positions for both a dentist member and a public member. The dentist position is expected to be filled in early January 2012. A number of CDA members submitted applications for this position earlier this year. In addition, there may be a second dentist member vacancy opening in January 2012 if the current Board member declines to stay for a second term. Vacancies on the dental board have been an ongoing challenge through 2011, and the CDA is continuing its outreach to the Governor’s office to work to resolve this problem.

The Board will continue to discuss several of the topics listed above at future meetings. If you would like to offer comments or feedback on these subjects, please contact Director of Governmental Relations Jennifer Goodrum at 303-996-2847 or