Aspiring Florida dentists, hygienists ask governor to change exam rules for licensure amid coronavirus concerns

Florida Board of Dentistry supports 1-time waiver, exemptions
Posted at 4:55 PM, May 18, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — For the first time in Florida history, the state Board of Dentistry is asking the governor to support a one-time waiver on some exam rules to become a licensed dentist or hygienist in the state.

Last month, the Board of Dentistry approved its own support of a measure that would waive one of the dental and dental hygiene exams that demonstrates an examinees’ ability to properly perform a deep cleaning.

In addition, the board also discussed and voted in favor of supporting a move that, for the first time, would allow dental examinees to perform some exams on mannequins instead of a live patient.

Last week, the Florida Dental Association also approved its support of these changes to licensing requirements.

The support came after the Florida board heard a presentation by the American Board of Dental Examiners (ADEX) on their non-patient based exam alternative. The waivers do not become official until Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off on the changes in an executive order.

Hundreds of recent graduates at several dental schools around the state have been stuck in limbo since the shut down canceled their licensure exams back in March.

"Kind of pulling our hair out right now," said Daniel May, who graduated from the Lake Eerie College of Osteopathic Medicine last week. But without taking and passing his board exams, May can't start his career as a licensed dentist or start paying off his student loans.

"We've done everything we can and now we have something we can't control holding us back," said May.

Part of the exam calls for students to bring in patients who they can perform high stakes dental procedures. But, May said, finding patients willing to be subjected during the pandemic has been a logistical nightmare even after he's offered them a number of incentives.

"Free dental work, $1,000 cash and we would pay for travel and losing, and they just said they weren't interested," he said.

May also said he's performed the deep cleaning "hundreds of times" and the other dental procedures many times through the course of his dental school career. He believes replacing human patients with a mannequin is a reasonable compromise given the coronavirus crisis.

Dr. Rudy Liddell, a Brandon dentist and president of the Florida Dental Association, agrees. Liddell said the pass rate on mannequin tests is actually lower than on live patients so consumers should not be concerned the changes reduce any rigor on the licensing exam.

"It's actually a harder exam," Liddell said. "I don't think the public has anything to worry about."

Liddell sent a letter to DeSantis on Monday asking for swift action on an executive order to allow the temporary rule changes.

"I'm hopeful that he will consider this is a unique situation and we're doing this to help a segment of our student body in need," he said.

Until the governor signs off on the proposed changes, recent dental graduates, including May, remain stuck.

"I've had to move back home with my family right now," he said after completing four years of college and other four years of dental school. "It's a very pressing time on all of us."