Occupational licensing is supposed to protect consumers from unqualified or perhaps even dangerous people providing certain services. The state creates boards and commissions which establish licensing standards that professionals like dentists and lawyers and nurses must meet in order to practice.
In theory this all seems well and good, but very often occupational licensing is used less to protect consumers than to protect existing professionals from competition.
Case in point, SB2354 which would create a category of professional in the dental health field called an “advanced practice dental hygienist” who would be able to do this stuff that regular dental hygienists cannot. Like extract certain types of teeth, prepare cavities for filling, and prepare athletic mouth guards.
Per the bill, this is what the definition of an advanced practice dental hygienist would be:
To become an advanced practice dental hygienist, regular old dental hygienists would have to complete additional training and pass a licensing exam.
This seems like good reform. One of the problem with strict occupational licensing regulations is that they very often create definitions for different occupations that force the consumers of something like dental services have to pay for someone who is overqualified to perform routine procedures.
I mean, does anyone really think we need a full-on dentist to fit a mouthguard?
But what these regulations also do is inflate the demand for certain professionals. The more services that are exclusively provided by dentists, per the law, the more demand there is for dentists. And more demand means dentists can justify higher prices.
Which is why North Dakota’s dentists are opposing this bill. “Don’t know if you paid attention to the debate on SB2354, which would allow for mid-level dental hygienists,” a lawmaker emailed me earlier this week referring to a hearing the bill got before the Senate Human Services Committee on February 10th. “The dentists came in to the legislature with their protectionist hats on. It was crazy.”
That’s not at all surprising. In this instance laws intended to protect consumers from getting bad dental work from unqualified people are instead being used to protect consumers from lower-cost, easier-to-access dental services.