by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
Remember back in our college days when we learned about research methods, oftentimes in public health class, and thought, “What does this have to do with clinical practice?” Actually, it has quite a bit to do with clinical practice. Although dental hygienists are educated in research methodology, many choose to provide clinical care as opposed to entering the research field. However, this does not mean that dental hygienists are not or should not be incorporating research into daily practice.
While it is true that most dental hygienists do not work in a research setting, most hygienists I know utilize research methodology in their practices quite often. This happens when they study about a new technology and then put it into practice at work, hear about a new product and then find out if it really is as effective as the sales pitch leads us to believe, or discuss new trends in dental hygiene practice with colleagues at a meeting. In short, although dental hygienists are not trained translational researchers, they often utilize research findings in practice on a daily basis.
Translational research simply defined is when scientific discoveries are translated into practical applications. Basically, it is when amazing phenomena are discovered and then translated into practice to benefit health. We know that scientists discover much in the lab with basic research, and that eventually this research progresses to the translational researcher.
When looking at the ability to comprehensively conduct research that truly matters in real life, it takes more than one discipline. It takes at least the basic scientist, translational researcher, statistician, and clinical provider. In fact, scientists are becoming increasingly aware that this bench-to-bedside approach to translational research is a two-way street. Basic scientists provide clinicians with new tools for patient use and assessment of their impact, and clinical researchers make novel observations about the nature and progression of disease that often stimulate basic investigations.
Dental hygienists are an essential link in the research process. This means we need to make sure that we are not a missing link in the research process. We need to constantly strive to adapt new technologies, new products, and new modalities into our practices. If something is preventing that, then we need to decide how to change that obstacle. Do we need more education? Do we need to communicate more with other dental hygienists? Is our work setting conducive to providing the best, evidenced-based practice?
Further, we need to make sure that as a profession, we are not the missing link. With the current increase in master’s degree programs in dental hygiene, I believe we will see more dental hygienists make those technologically advanced discoveries in the lab as well as in translational research.
We became dental hygienists to help others achieve and maintain health, and we must make sure that as we grow and expand in dental hygiene, we maintain that link in translational research.
About the Author
Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health” (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.