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Medical and dental collaboration

March 1, 2012
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? That is a question I’ve heard numerous times, and depending on your perspective ...
Opportunities abound for substitute dental hygienists

by Jennifer Kirkham, RDH

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? That is a question I’ve heard numerous times, and depending on your perspective, each answer is correct. Relating this question to our current economic and professional employment situation, what comes first: the bridge between medical and dental communities or improved access to dental care and awareness? The answer is found in the following.

There have been a lot of discussions regarding the dental hygienist practitioner (DHP) and an emphasis on collaborative effort between the medical and dental communities. In my state, an oral health alliance is taking steps to make this happen while working with the state dental hygiene association and other organizations. The needs-based objective for this movement is monumental and labor intensive.

The most recent information from the Bureau of Labor Services of the U.S. Department of Labor states, “Employment in professional and business services continued to trend up in October … (and) have modest job gains in recent months in temporary help services. Over the past 12 months, health care has added 313,000 jobs.” It also states that “employment in both state (and) local government has been trending down since the second half of 2008.” (

I do not claim to be an economist or an expert on governmental ebb and flow, though some creative planning and implementation can bring positive results to dental hygiene professional issues and employment opportunities. Once the bridge between the medical and dental communities is constructed, the traffic moving to an increased oral care awareness and access to care will inevitably follow. Employment opportunities will also abound to give every qualified dental hygienist enough work to satisfy the need.

This potential increase in employment will be foreign at first. The individual hygienist can no longer remain too comfortable in just “doing the job.” Explore innovative ways to benefit the dental hygiene field and strive for excellence in private practice, professionalism, public service, and community events. Once this is done, the focus will shift to what you have to offer with your personal strengths and talents. Then you will no longer have just a job; you will have a new product of yourself. Your attitude will be contagious and opportunities will become available to you because of this inner fire.

I have invested much time and resources to create an adjunct to public and private entities in need of temp or fill-in services from dental hygienists. According to the report from the Department of Labor mentioned earlier, this is a growing need. At, you will have an opportunity to create a professional profile and make yourself available for employment opportunities as they come. In private practice, this is useful for scheduling emergencies in which a substitute dental hygienist is needed. In a public setting, a community oral health event or clinic may take place and hygienists with specific credentials and availability can be contacted with ease. is designed to be a reliable source where dentists and public organizations can communicate in a confidential, efficient, and — most importantly — time-sensitive manner. gives suggestions to improve your professional image by creating a professional profile, sharing your portfolio, and responding (quickly) to your customers. These are the same foundational principles in This service is designed to help promote the dental hygiene profession by facilitating new work experiences for hygienists and encouraging higher education, creativity, excellence, and learning.

I have always loved practicing dental hygiene. Ten years into the profession and I am still doing just that — practicing dental hygiene. Technological advances are happening so quickly that mediocrity has no place in the profession. I am always learning new ways to connect with patients, new techniques and products, and incorporating new medical findings into practice. I love the endless opportunities of higher learning. It keeps getting higher and higher!

So, what comes first — the collaboration between medical and dental communities or improved access to care? The answer is neither. Each professional issue is equally important, and we cannot have one without the other. It is in the hands of the individual dental hygienist to improve oneself in order to make the above-mentioned goals a success. This requires a greater awareness and action exploring opportunities for personal and professional growth. A quote on the wall of the dental hygiene clinic at Idaho State University states, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail” — a bold, but true, statement that has been etched on my soul. The dental hygiene profession needs dental hygienists to prepare. Prepare to be educated. Prepare to be independent. Prepare by learning new skills. The list is never ending as are the possibilities.

Recently I completed the Boise, Idaho, 70.3 Ironman. I never before saw myself in an Ironman event, but that experience taught me a new meaning of mental strength. I learned four principles of growth that have helped me as an athlete and a dental hygienist: interval training, rest, determination, and humility. These same principles can inspire you to accept each moment in your dental hygiene career as a daily adventure and to make the best of the journey.

Visit and register if you are in need of short- and long-term opportunities for dental hygiene positions. Then use the skills I mention in this article to market yourself in public and private settings by letting others know you can be reached through Adventure and new endeavors are on the horizon! Jen Kirkham attended Idaho State University, earning a bachelor’s in dental hygiene. She has been a practicing clinical dental hygienist for 10 years. She just completed her first year at CareerFusion. You will find Jen enjoying various activities, including singing, gourmet cooking, numerous outdoor activities, and competing in Olympic Triathlon and Ironman Events.

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