by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
As a profession, we really do have quite a way to go in improving the public's health. Sometimes, it is tiring just thinking about it:
- About half of the population does not regularly visit a dentist
- Not all dentists even employ a dental hygienist
- We can assume that the percentage of individuals who receive dental hygiene care is much less
Many populations do not have access to a dental hygienist. Although many states may have adopted less restrictive practice requirements in recent years, state policies or procedures may be restricting services or payment for services.
In other words, we still have a way to go. We need to stay motivated and continue to persevere. It is important to remember that Dr. Fones, the founder of dental hygiene, took one step at a time when initiating the dental hygiene movement. Many other individuals believed in dental hygiene, but no one else had the motivation, values, and perseverance to really develop the new profession. It took Dr. Fones four years to convince the Board of Education in Bridgeport, Conn., that hiring his dental hygienists to operate dental clinics in their schools should be implemented.
He wanted to ensure that upon graduation, his students would be able to secure employment. During these years of disappointment, Fones secured expert faculty to teach in his school and qualified students to be admitted to his school. He also completed a textbook so that his first class had the first dental hygiene textbook written in Philadelphia (“Mouth Hygiene,” published by Lea & Febiger).
He wrote in the preface of the third edition of the book that the actual results secured by dental hygienists can only be attributed to the value of dental hygiene. He further stated that those who were still skeptical were finding it difficult to suggest any other means by which similarly good results could be accomplished for large groups of people. His third edition was published in 1927, even though he began initiating the dental hygiene movement in the early 1900s.
It takes time.
So although legislative change is difficult, we need to keep persevering so that dental hygiene is improved. We need improvement in:
- Dental hygiene research, which is the base of our practice
- Educational standards, so that all dental hygienists are equipped to provide quality care to the public
- Public health practice, so that we are meeting the needs of society and not just select groups of society
- The regulation of dental hygiene, so that dental hygienists are fully responsible for dental hygienists, without reliance (or interference) from other professions
- Accreditation standards that are developed primarily by dental hygienists that teach, conduct research, and practice dental hygiene
So let us look at the past to remember we are getting there one step at a time. That is how the profession was initiated and will continue to positively evolve! And let us keep the focus on the public's oral health!