Searching for hygienists: An experiment with Internet search terms leads to different perspectives about profession

May 11, 2015
Social media is buzzing with dental hygienists' concerns and questions about changing the status quo for our profession. Several topics are a part of every thread I read online, but one is never absent: The public is not aware of the important role dental hygienists play in health care.

BY Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

Social media is buzzing with dental hygienists' concerns and questions about changing the status quo for our profession. Several topics are a part of every thread I read online, but one is never absent: The public is not aware of the important role dental hygienists play in health care. To solve a problem one must uncover what is available and what needs to change. I set Google and Yahoo in motion to discover what is out in webland for the general public to read.

The key to a successful Internet search is keywords. For this experiment, a few combinations were employed. The quest began at Google and the search words were, "What does a dental hygienist do?" Sadly, after a couple of paid ads, the first source for my inquiry was the American Dental Association.1

The job description on the ADA site has some positive statements. I especially liked this in the opening paragraph, "In the dental office, the dentist and the dental hygienist work together to meet the oral health needs of patients." I believe the dental team is a collaborative effort with patient health as the only goal.


Other articles by Laughter


The part I did not like about this page was under rewards and challenges. The first reward listed is personal satisfaction, but the list says nothing about influencing health or providing essential preventive care.

The section on career advantages also addresses the high demand for dental hygienists and job security, both of which those seeking positions know are not true. Daily stories are shared among colleagues about veteran hygienists being dismissed for a newer graduate who will work for less pay - that is not job security. We also hear of graduates from two and even three years ago who still cannot find employment and offices who receive 300-plus applications for an opening for one to two days a week.

Another link that appears on the first page of my Google search is written by dental hygienists in answer to a question, "Does anyone actually like being a Dental Hygienist?"2 The answers are honest, but not the impression we want to leave with the reading public. In my opinion, the dental hygienists come across as complaining victims. The comments do address the lack of benefits and full-time positions along with chronic pain, poor working conditions, and unappreciative dentists.

KB, the initials of the person who asked the question, came to this conclusion: "OK, I guess you all have done a very good job of convincing me not to go into dental hygiene. But I didn't get very many suggestions on what I should do instead. ... No matter what career I think about going into, I ask people who work in that career, and I get the same answers: pay is not as good as it seems to be, no jobs, too many people going to school for it, long hours, hard work, and not getting treated fairly. It's making me feel that no matter what I do, unless the economy gets better soon, there are not any careers worth going into."

What a sad commentary about our profession. The authors gave only the negative and left the general impression that all dental hygienists are an unhappy and sour lot.

On Yahoo, I selected the keywords, "dental hygienist creating health," and the results were vastly different. The average person searching the Internet would not use those words, but but I needed a positive outlook to balance the Google results. The first source under the ads in this case was from the ADHA.3 Those who take the time to read even the first few paragraphs will realize the public health is a primary goal of the RDH.

The next source on my Yahoo search is more public friendly in reading.4 Maria Perno Goldie RDH, MS, explains the six roles of the dental hygienist in providing access to oral health care. This should have been the first source in both searches. The article discusses problems with access to care for Americans - something the other articles seemed to miss or skim over. Maria does not mince words and writes, "Dental hygienists can play an important role in improving access to high-quality services, especially for underserved or vulnerable populations..." Don't we all look forward to the day when "can" is removed from the statement and it is commonplace for dental hygienists to play an important role?

The next Yahoo source is one I am particularly proud of seeing. It is a press release put out by the Dental Hygienists' Alliance, which was picked up by 650+ news sources and accessed by over 67,000 readers on the PR site.5 The article written by Noel Kelsch RDHAP, BS, details how dental hygienists can save lives. It highlights that we do more than just clean teeth, and it provides insight into our vital role. This is the impression our profession needs to leave on the public.

We need to be mindful of our footprints left on the web. There is a need for change in how the dental hygienist is viewed in the health-care system. The imprint we leave with the world stays forever on the Internet archives. Sour words and misinformation are not easy to take back on the World Wide Web. Be accurate with your statements, be sincere, and, above all, be an agent for change. RDH

Websites referred to in this article

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 [email protected].