To make your colleagues a little more tasty, add a dash of salt and a clove of garlic

Aug. 1, 1996
Does anyone remember reading Jonathan Swift in their high school English class? "Gulliver`s Travels?" "A Modest Proposal?" If you have successfully forgotten them, please indulge me while I dredge up old memories.

Heidi Emmerling Jones, RDH, BS

Does anyone remember reading Jonathan Swift in their high school English class? "Gulliver`s Travels?" "A Modest Proposal?" If you have successfully forgotten them, please indulge me while I dredge up old memories.

Swift was an 18th century political satirist who was incensed by England`s oppression of Ireland. His "modest proposal" for ridding poverty in Ireland was cannibalism. He argued that the poor Irish families could sell their children to the rich as culinary delicacies.

Swift even went so far as to recommend specific cooking methods. Using a harsh, ironic voice, he supported his argument with scientific logic.

Undermining each other

These days we have another heinous proposal before us. The author? The ADA.

The proposal is the dental office auxiliary membership category offered by some ADA constituent (state) societies. The irony of this proposal is that, if successfully employed, dental hygienists will be undermining dental hygiene.

The ADA invites hygienists to join, enticing us with low dues (averaging $45 annually) and so-called benefits. Apparently, one such benefit is career advice. From the ADA? Sorry, folks; I think I`ll pass on that one. Benefits noticeably missing from the list are the right to vote, hold office, serve on committees, and provide input into governance.

What`s in it for the ADA to have hygienists as members anyway? First, the membership category will generate some money for the ADA. However, they consider this "gravy" revenue since the expense and flimsy benefits for this category are limited and cheap.

Another benefit to the ADA is the effect of lumping all non-dentists together as auxiliary "team" members (subordinates, so to speak). By placing all dental office personnel together - assistants, laboratory technicians, business staff, and hygienists - the ADA is positioning us all under its umbrellas as part of the dental family.

This robs hygienists of our distinct identity as the preventive professional.

I think the most intentional purpose of establishing this category is legislative. By luring hygienists into its organization, the ADA will try to convince legislators that dentists, not hygienists, represent our interests. If an ADA constituent can go to lawmakers and claim that more dental hygienists are members of the ADA constituent than the ADHA constituent, that makes for a very effective legislative tool.

The ADA, like the ADHA, has a tripartite structure. This means that when you join, you belong to the national, state, and local organizations. However, ADA constituent directors decided that the primary value of auxiliary membership is at the state level where it can be effectively utilized in the legislative arena.

This, in part, led to the ADA`s decision not to enforce tripartite membership for auxiliaries at this time. Consider resolution 141 adopted by the 1992 House of Delegates: "Resolved that the ADA undertake a study through the Council on Dental Practice, in concert with other communities-of-interest, of the immediate needs of dentists for support personnel who can assist in providing limited dental hygiene services to patients."

Through all the gobbledygook and bureaucratese, this sounds suspiciously like preceptorship.

And, by not having a vote or any other means to speak against this, dental hygiene members of ADA will actually be supporting ADA`s efforts at enacting such resolutions and incapacitating our profession.

A nice little bonus: Membership in the ADA

As a token of appreciation, or instead of a raise or bonus, some sincere, well-meaning (and probably some insincere and not so well-meaning) dentists sign up the hygienists in their employ as members. So some hygienists become members of ADA without their knowledge. Another related consequence of this membership category is competition with ADHA for members. The ADA hopes that some portion of hygienists will drop their ADHA membership in favor of ADA`s cheaper category. Hygienists who choose the auxiliary category will add to the dental society`s "market share" and simultaneously decrease ADHA`s potential market share of hygienists. As a result, this membership category will erode ADHA`s membership base and dues revenue.

Likely targets for this membership category are hygienists who are not currently members of ADHA, as well as hygienists who are not "bonded" with their dental hygiene association. The ADA targets these hygienists in hopes that they will see no difference between the ADA and ADHA except lower dues.

Let`s examine why people join and remain in organizations. There are two kinds of benefits: tangible and intangible. The tangible benefits (insurance, continuing education, publications, etc.) are usually the first things mentioned when organizations try to recruit new members. The ADA and ADHA both do this.

The intangible benefits

However, studies show that most people continue belonging to professional organizations for the other intangible benefits. Affiliations, opportunities to develop leadership skills, social and professional networking, and pride in a profession are true reasons to maintain membership.

The auxiliary membership category of the ADA is counter to the interest of the dental hygiene profession. I see a strong parallel between Jonathan Swift`s cannibalistic proposal and the ADA`s auxiliary membership category.

If hygienists join the ADA, then these very hygienists the ADA hopes to undermine and replace with preceptor hygienists will actually be supporting them in their efforts to do so.

How ironic! Perhaps the ADA should instruct hygienist-members to mail in their diploma and license for proper disposal. After all, if things go as the ADA hopes, these will be worth no more than mere scraps of paper anyway.

Dental hygienists who view their chosen profession as a career rather than just a job need to belong to their own professional organization. ADHA`s purpose is to ensure our professionalism and livelihood, as well as represent and promote our interests on legislative issues. And we actually get to vote.

While hygienists might find cheap dues in the ADA, we will only find the intangible benefits like increased status among professionals, a national voice, and professional pride by working together within our own association.

Heidi Emmerling Jones, RDH, BS, is a consulting editor for RDH and practices dental hygiene in Sparks, Nevada.