Legislation approved by California senators on Thursday, May 18, allows dental assistants to be trained on the job—instead of in classrooms —to help with oral surgeries and orthodontic procedures. The bill would require the Dental Board of California to license registered restorative assistants, registered orthodontic assistants, and registered surgery assistants who get their training in apprenticeships rather than in 9- to 12-month classroom programs.

Under the measure, the board would set regulations for the apprenticeships, which could be no longer than 18 months. Students would have to have at least 1,600 hours (40 work weeks) of practice before they could be licensed. Participating dentists would have to take a class of at least 6 hours that would cover how to teach and evaluate students.

The California Dental Association, which backs the legislation, says the bill would provide training flexibility for jobs that are in high demand and that allow for more efficient dental care. The dental board also supports the bill.

However, opponents say the legislation would allow inexperienced technicians to practice on patients, and noted that not all dentists are good teachers.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Denise Ducheney, D-San Diego, says she added safeguards at the insistence of critics. For example, dentists would have to verbally inform patients and let them reject being treated by a trainee, and the dentist would have to be present at all times while the trainee is providing treatment. Once licensed, the assistants could work unsupervised. Her amended bill also includes surprise inspections by the dental board along with written and practical examinations for the trainees.

The measure passed the Senate 36-0, and now goes to the Assembly.