Dental hygiene job description

May 1, 2012
RDH’s editor, Mark Hartley, shared some motivating words with some of us at the end of last year.

RDH’s editor, Mark Hartley, shared some motivating words with some of us at the end of last year. In a nutshell, he suggested that we, as dental hygienists, have the ability to take challenges and turn them into opportunities to further advance the discipline. I appreciated these words and I was motivated by them. I think we could all agree that sometimes the challenges we face in dental hygiene can be disheartening, and it is up to us, as dental hygiene providers, to make the commitment to keep striving for better standards to improve outcomes for our patients.

Because of this concept, I would like to share a reflection of where we, as a profession, started, and how we can continue to forge ahead with the values originally instilled by Dr. Fones. By doing this, we can strive to provide the best, most equitable dental hygiene care in today’s world. I believe these concepts will provide a great job description for our future.

Dr. Fones profoundly stated in his 4th edition of “Mouth Hygiene,” the first dental hygiene textbook in the world, that “there are two distinct methods of prevention — the one that strives to recognize and correct the incipient states of disease, and the other that is based on the efforts to raise the intelligence of individual communities through education measures regarding the laws of health.” He explained that dental hygiene as a practice is composed of these two distinct methods — clinical and education dental prevention — the milestones of our science. Most would agree that dental hygiene today shares the same foundation.

Another interesting concept from Dr. Fones with which I wholeheartedly agree is the concept of where to best position dental hygiene to most effectively meet the public’s need. He suggested that public schools present a tremendous field for preventive efforts where physical defects can be eliminated or prevented in early childhood, and the coming generation should teach the laws of health and disease prevention. It is quite interesting that Dr. Fones went on to state that it is for this type of service that the dental hygienist was created. What a concept, especially salient for those areas in the U.S. that do not yet have dental hygiene provided in all schools.

Finally, a theme that Dr. Fones discussed in his 4th edition may be a far-reaching and admirable goal. He states, “People who have good health and an education rarely are objects of charity. ...The main solution … is therefore the same as that for disease, namely, prevention. It is not the intention to in any way belittle the efforts being made to aid the sick and needy, nor should such efforts be decreased. The vital point is that we have not commended to cover the possibilities of true prevention.”

The reason this belief of Fones’ is so vital to a dental hygiene job description is that it properly addresses the need of our profession to have an overriding goal that focuses on the necessity that our practice exists to better society. If we do not possess a lofty goal such as this, where would our profession be? The best way to accomplish much is to dream big!

So our present job description could be that dental hygienists strive to provide clinical and educational preventive dental care to the population, which should be in areas where access to care can easily be accomplished. By doing this, we could provide preventive care to more of the population, which would help us in the long term by improving the value of dental health in today’s society. Subsequently, this should ultimately better the health of the public. Time to move upward and onward to best address the needs of this decade.


Fones, AC. Mouth Hygiene 4th edition Lea & Febiger 1934.

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 Research” (, which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.

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