Dental care denial unfair, unwarranted

Posted Jan. 28, 2010, at 7:57 p.m.

There is a very serious situation that is currently occurring in Maine. About 30 months ago, the Maine Board of Dental Examiners instituted a policy of mandatory blood pressure screening of all dental patients before any dental intervention is done. This screening is being done in conjunction with a recommendation by the American Heart Association and is not a normative or standard dental procedure carried out for the benefit of the patient, although there are very strong attempts to disguise it as such.

The program is an attempt to force dental patients to have their blood pressure examined and treated by a physician if the screening results exceed certain levels, and the patient is denied dental care until they do. The rationale is that since individuals go to the dentist more often than they normally visit their physician, a number of individuals can be forced to have their high blood pressure treated and address the so-called “national epidemic of high blood pressure.”

The program is actually being carried out by the dental hygienists and the dentist is not present, so that if dental care is denied, it is actually the hygienist and-or other dental office personnel who are carrying out the program and requiring the patient to have medical intervention before dental care is given.

Usually when such programs are introduced, the public is informed through the newspapers or other public media as to the goals and intent of the new procedures. But in this circumstance, the program was not only introduced clandestinely, it was introduced in such a manner as to leave a minimal paper trail with no official policy statements or communication to the dentists, although I have been able to uncover the fact that a letter of instruction was sent to the dental hygienists in Maine some 34 months ago. I have not as yet been able to obtain a copy of the letter.

Dental patients have the right to refuse a blood pressure screening and-or dental X-rays. Dental patients are generally informed of their rights where dental X-rays are concerned, meaning their permission is asked, but in the case of the blood pressure screening they are simply being told that it is mandatory. And they certainly are not being told that they can be denied dental care on the basis of the screening if their blood pressure is not within the acceptable guidelines.

This is clearly a violation of federal health care standards and is an unethical procedure in the dental office designed to enable the forced treatment of high blood pressure. Actually, there is no “national epidemic of high blood pressure” but a national blood pressure statistic that is elevated in large measure due to the demographic of the elderly, and who are being discriminated against in this dental office blood pressure screening program.

The Maine Board of Dental Examiners has instituted a policy that is not only questionable and insensitive to the actual dental care needs of the patients of Maine, but has done so in a dishonest and deceptive manner. This policy, which is a misguided and misbegotten policy in the first place and which should be eliminated, is not being carried out with the informed consent of dental patients and is causing some very serious problems.

The Maine Board of Dental Examiners, the Maine Dental Association and the American Dental Association, although the ADA has taken a complex and cautious position on this, have all conspired to introduce a program that is unethical and a blatant conflict of interest where the provision of dental care for Maine dental patients are concerned. The primary and necessary function of dentistry is to provide dental care and not to become involved in health surveys that unnecessarily and destructively intrude into the province of the health care physician.

Because of this program, I have decided to have all of my dental care performed in Canada, since my denial of dental care in Maine resulted in a very serious dental situation. I was told to go to my physician to have my blood pressure treated after a highly questionable screening and my severely fractured tooth was not even examined.

Fred D. Patterson II of Fort Kent is retired from law enforcement.

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