Let’s collaborate!

As dental hygienists, we want a strong voice to carry our message of the importance of oral health in daily life.

As dental hygienists, we want a strong voice to carry our message of the importance of oral health in daily life. One thing we have learned as a profession is that a strong voice is much more effective when it is the collaborative strong voice of many! For instance, the best way to promote oral health within schools is to lobby with school administrators, dieticians, parent organizations, and teachers. An effective way to encourage the use of athletic mouthguards in children’s sports is to gain the support of the athletic directors, coaches, and parents. This means we must work with others who have the same goals.

The American Dental Hygienists’ Association has been doing just that - working with others to deal with oral health issues in the United States. One group the ADHA recently began a collaborative relationship with is the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD). Tim Lynch, the director of governmental affairs at ADHA, cited a recent joint effort that included collaboration with the ASTDD at the 2006 Public Health Networking Session in Orlando. The session, titled “State Oral Health Programs 101,” featured a panel of three dental hygienists, who serve as state dental directors, and one dentist. The session highlighted the importance of strong state oral health programs, as well as the multitude of information and resources available through state oral health departments and the ASTDD.

ASTDD advocates a governmental oral health presence in each state and territory to promote sound oral health policy, increase awareness of oral health issues, and assist in the development of initiatives for prevention and control of oral diseases. ASTDD helps state and territorial dental directors become excellent oral health program leaders. In many states, dental hygienists serve as state dental directors. In fact, the incoming president of ASTDD is a dental hygienist!

Lynn Bethel, the interim director of oral health in Massachusetts and the ADHA liaison to ASTDD, contends that state dental directors are natural allies of dental hygienists and should be working with them to prevent oral diseases. State dental directors know what oral health initiatives are occurring in states, and can act as conduits to assist dental hygienists who want to promote oral health in their communities. Lynn also suggested that oral health coalitions are the foundation for successful prevention initiatives, such as community water fluoridation and school prevention programs. Dental hygienists and state dental hygiene associations should be represented on these coalitions, working side by side with other professional organizations to promote prevention programs and improve access to care.

ASTDD collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Oral Health to track eight basic oral health surveillance indicators as its main focus in all states. This effort is the National Oral Health Surveillance System (NOHSS). They have many reports to help with public health pursuits, including Best Practice Approaches for State Oral Health Programs, the program planning tool Assessing Oral Health Needs, ASTDD’s Seven-Step Model screening tool, a Basic Screening Survey Tool, and much more for dentists, hygienists, health-care providers, and policy stakeholders.

Christine Wood, RDH, BS, president-elect of ASTDD and Oral Health Program Manager in Nevada, believes that ASTDD is an invaluable resource for all oral health professionals, and that it is important for all of us (public health, private practice, research, and academics) to work together toward positive outcomes. Please see their Web site for more information at www.astdd.org. Let’s collaborate! RDH

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is an associate 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 cnathe@salud.unm.edu or (505) 272-8147.

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