BY LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS
Happy Birthday, dental hygiene! We can look back over the last 100 years and celebrate the growth, accomplishments, and successes of our profession. Looking ahead there are still obstacles to overcome and important things to accomplish in the next 100 years. One of the first such things to overcome might be the public’s perception of the dental hygienist.
Typing “history of dental hygiene” into the Yahoo search box brought up as many hits for the toothbrush as for the professional. I found it surprising no hits for flossing came up in the first 2500 returns. In the realm of health care careers, dental hygiene is relatively young, but among the school ads and oral aid sites one can find plenty of reasons to celebrate the 100-year mark.
University of Bridgeport gives a short history on the first dental hygiene school. Although Dr. Fones did not open the first school until 1913, Irene Newman performed oral prophylaxis in his practice as early as 1907. The school was opened with $46,000 and the teaching aids included extracted teeth from Dr. Fone’s practice. Reading this article was the first time I realized Dr. Fones suspended operation of the school so he could travel and lecture on dental hygiene. The Junior College of Connecticut reopened the school in 1949.
Irene Newman played a vital role in our profession, not only as the first dental hygienist — she also helped open and taught at the school. This link for the Bridgeport Library summarizes the endeavors of Fones and Newman and highlights a quote given in 1950. When asked about her role in the history of dental hygiene, Irene replied, “I didn’t think a thing of it. The work was there to do, and I did it.”
When searching specifically for Irene Newman, every single return also mentioned Dr. Fones and most often focused on his role in training Irene to clean teeth. Prior to becoming Dr. Fones chairside assistant and the first dental hygienist, Irene was already involved in social reform according to the Find a Grave website.
For a summarized history of dental hygiene, visit a site offering general information about the profession. This site not only gives the early history, but breaks accomplishments down into starting with the 1960s. An interesting tidbit I learned from this source — the first male hygienist came from the University of New Mexico in 1965. Oddly enough, I did not locate a single source naming this man or further discussing his contribution to the profession.
In a past issue of RDH magazine, Laurie A. Milling RDH, BS gives us an in-depth look that the past and future of dental hygiene. Her article gives a history prior to Fones opening his school. She notes by 1910 the Ohio College of Dental School had a program for dental nurses. Unfortunately, many dentists opposed formal training and graduates were never allowed to practice. Milling’s article also explains how dental hygiene came to be regulated by dentists.
ADHA.org has a good rundown on our history divided into nine Adobe Acrobat files based on time period, although the history seems to end in 1993.6 The ADHA website also contains documents of the Dental Hygiene Oath and Contemporary Dental Hygiene Oath. To be honest, I don’t believe I have seen the Dental Hygiene Oath before finding this source and the original took me a bit by surprise. Maybe I recited it at some point in my past, but never really listened to the words.
The largest celebration of turning 100 will take place at ADHA Annual Session on June 19-23 in Boston. Information and registration is available on the website at www.adha.org. Courses at the CLL this year include those we expect to see on infection control and other vital clinical topics, but a few highlighting our advancement as a career caught my eye. On June 20 you can attend “Minnesota Breaks Ground: A Dental Hygiene Career Ladder is Born” a panel discussion facilitated by Colleen Brickle, RDH, EdD, and Clare Larkin, RDH. Learning from those who are instrumental in creating change is a great way to toast the dental hygiene profession.
As a reminder that we still have work to do and barriers to break consider attending “Dental Hygiene, Reflecting on Our Past, Preparing for Our Future” by Rhoda Gladstone, RDH, MS — also at the CLL on June 20, 2013. Along with our earned right to celebrate how far we have progressed as a profession comes the realization we still have far to go before independence and total self-regulation. Perhaps a unique way to commemorate the milestone is to flood the Internet with blogs and entries dedicated to our careers and organization. Congratulations on the first 100 years and best wishes for several hundred more.
LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.