Still Crazy About California

Oct. 1, 2008
Franklin Avenue, even at the birth of RDH, was way past its heyday. Many decades ago, Franklin was the main thoroughfare southward out of downtown Waco in Texas.

by Mark Hartley
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Franklin Avenue, even at the birth of RDH, was way past its heyday. Many decades ago, Franklin was the main thoroughfare southward out of downtown Waco in Texas. The city's newspaper was on Franklin, as was the Coca-Cola bottling plant — a busy street, four lanes wide with a grassy median strip down the center.

RDH spent its early years partitioned off in a strip shopping center across from a Dairy Queen. If I had to guess, the strip shopping center looked like it formerly housed an H&R Block office, a barbershop, and a specialty office supply distributor. You know the drill; you've seen them in your town. A dental office is also a possibility for a former tenant. But the storefronts were much closer to the industrial district rather than the residential areas and hospitals.

The publisher's front door faced westward. A secretary/receptionist greeted visitors there. On the other side of a thin wall from her were the dental editors. In 1985, the editors for RDH, Dental Assisting, and Dentist magazines were crammed together behind three desks roughly two feet apart. You had to turn sideways to squeeze in and sit down at your desk.

We proofread each other's copy. I read all of the authors for RDH. Ellen Dietz (editor of Dental Assisting) and Sandra Pemberton (editor of RDH) also proofread the copy of the young dentists whom I worked with on manuscripts. Due to my, uh, close proximity to RDH magazine — less than six feet in that aging strip shopping center on Franklin Avenue — I wanted my young readers to be different from the old boys who ran dentistry then.

I wanted young dentists to admire and respect hygienists.

I wanted young dentists to understand what the big picture is for hygienists. Some hygienists wanted to serve the profession beyond the closed confines of general dentistry, even if it meant "independence." According to the old boys, independence meant the downfall of dentistry, health care in general, or free market economics.

So I dialed California.

The articles that appeared in Dentist in the 1980s were fair. After all, the audience was primarily dentists who were under the age of 40 in 1985. But I contacted and talked at length with sources from the California Dental Hygienists' Association, as well as their attorneys. The latter were hired when the state's two dental associations started filing lawsuits against each other. Some of those embittered feelings still persist almost 25 years later.

RDH, of course, is now based in Oklahoma. The legendary humorist Will Rogers, a native Sooner, reportedly once said, "When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, they raised the average intelligence level in both states." This comment was made during the Grapes of Wrath depression era.

Regardless, I'm still crazy about California after all these years.

I can't think of another state that has carried the banner on behalf of dental hygiene more than California has. Good things have happened elsewhere: true "independence" in Colorado; "collaborative practice" in New Mexico; "unionization" in Illinois; the "Shout" movement in Washington state that failed on the public ballot; as well as the recent landmark decisions in Maine and Minnesota.

But California was where the souls were bared and blood was spilled. You go to Connecticut for the profession's birthplace; you head for the other coast to where the battleground monuments stand tall for the profession of dental hygiene. We are all indebted to the California hygienists of the 1980s, 1990s, and even today (see the related article by current CDHA president Noel Kelsch in this issue) for pushing the boundaries on what we can accomplish.