Dental hygienists’ role in advocacy

Aug. 1, 2018
The profession must continue to advocate for the oral health of a population
The profession must continue to advocate for the oral health of a population

Christine Nathe, MS, RDH

Dental hygienists who practice advocacy have a real chance at making significant improvements in the public’s health. As practiced in dental hygiene, advocacy is the action of trying to improve a population’s health in a logical and collaborative manner.

Dr. Alfred Fones defined the role of dental hygienists in advocacy when he wrote, “Those who may still be skeptical are finding it difficult indeed to suggest any other means by which similar good results can be accomplished for large groups of people.”1

Through the years, our professional association has consistently described the advocacy role, which exemplifies the significance of advocating for others in the practice of dental hygiene. Although the terms may have changed in the description of dental hygiene roles through the years, the practice and skill set of advocates remains.

The concept of social advocacy is probably the most common idea associated with advocate, and sometimes this can become quite political. The term can be used to span many disciplines but is predominantly associated with the business and legal worlds. There is really no political entity that owns the term because a social advocate is an individual who causes social change intended to benefit others. Although many disagree about the way to obtain a desired outcome, most agree on the final outcome, such as the improved oral health of a population.

Hygienists should continually advocate for the population. In order to do this effectively, hygienists should collaborate, be motivated to advance the practice, and have a deep desire to care for others.

The first asset as an advocate is the desire to work with others—collaboration. This is necessary since change is often the result of many people’s efforts. Dental hygienists who advocate for others enjoy working with others and can work well on a team. They often lead the team, although they may have different styles. Some leaders are more outspoken while others exude a calming peacefulness.

Remember that in order to make changes, there must be collaboration. Rarely is an advocate effective without collaborating with others.

Next, hygienists must be motivated to advance the practice. This motivation and subsequent action could have a tremendous impact on dental hygiene science and practice. Hygienists must continue searching for solutions to develop effective public health programs and practice regimens that will result in better oral health outcomes.

Finally, hygienists must genuinely care for the outcomes in the population and their patients. Dental hygienist advocates care so deeply that they’re able to look outside of their own ideas and work with others, many times even creating a win/win situation to come up with solutions that involve the ideas of many.

Dental hygienists must strive to continue this collaborative skill of advocacy to improve the public’s oral health. Involving the ideas and solutions of other groups and working together is the ultimate way to advocate for the public’s oral health.


1. Fones AC. Mouth Hygiene. 3­rd edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger;1927.

CHRISTINE NATHE, MS, RDH, is director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is also the author of Dental Public Health and Research, which is in its fourth edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.