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Keywords:

  • delegation;
  • dental hygienist;
  • dentist;
  • substitution

Abstract –  Objective:  The aim of the study was to investigate the attitudes among dentists and dental hygienists to the policy objective in Norway of delegating more dental work from dentists to dental hygienists.

Method:  A questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of 1111 dentists and 268 dental hygienists in 2005. The response rates were 45% (504) among the dentists and 42% (112) among the dental hygienists. The survey sought to explore any discrepancies between current and preferred mix of different work tasks, as well as attitudes to the idea of substituting dentists with dental hygienists for certain work tasks. Logistic regression was used to analyse how answers differed by respondent characteristics.

Results:  Dentists spent only half of their total working hours on complex dental services, i.e. tasks that only dentists are skilled to undertake. Nearly 40% of their time was spent on tasks that dental hygienists are qualified to perform; examinations, screening and basic treatments. Still, the mix of work tasks that dentists preferred would involve slight changes: on average only 2% points more complex treatment and 3–4% points less of those tasks that dental hygienists are permitted to provide. Seemingly contrary, as many as 60% of dentists answered that it was ‘desirable to delegate’ more tasks to dental hygienist. However, only 21% of the dentists agreed that dental hygienists should be the entry point for dental services. Dental hygienists would prefer to do relatively more basic treatments and fewer examinations and screening, and the vast majority among them supported the idea that they could be the entry point for dental services.

Conclusion:  The results suggest that there will not be major changes in the division of labour between dentists and dental hygienists in Norway, if dentists are to be held responsible for taking such initiatives. Although dentists agree that more of their current work could– in principle – be delegated to dental hygienists, they do not prefer to reduce much of their own current activity of those work tasks that dental hygienists are qualified to perform.