What is the dental public health infrastructure in the United States? Infrastructure generally means a set of interconnected structural elements that provide the framework to support an entire structure. Structural elements of our dental public health infrastructure as depicted in the NIDCR-supported report by Scott Tomar, DMD, DrPH, lists the following:
- State Health Departments
- County and Local Health Departments
- Community and Migrant Health Centers
- U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
- Schools in Dentistry, Dental Hygiene and Public Health
- Advanced Training in Dental Public Health Residencies
- Prevention Research Centers
- Board-Certified Public Health Dentists
- Race/Ethnicity of Dental Workforce and Students
- National Dental Public Health Organizations
- State Boards of Dental Examiners
- State Practice Acts Regarding Dental Hygiene Practice
This report, titled Assessment of the dental public health infrastructure in the United States, specifically looks at dental public health infrastructure and discusses each of the four structural elements in detail. This report is an excellent tool for a dental hygienist interested in looking into public health and of course, those already working in public health. It can be accessed at: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/E7AEAF78-667F-43D8-BA48-A981A01CD437/0/US_Dental_Public_Health_Infrastructure_8_2004.pdf.
Dental care delivery is impacted by many federal and state government entities. State practice acts and rules and regulations govern the practice of dental hygiene in specific states. All states, including Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories utilize departments that focus on providing health and human services to those in need.
Specifically, these departments include dental divisions. Dental divisions are directed by dental hygienists and dentists in many states. State dental divisions work as dental consultants within the state environment and strive to promote dental health. Many state departments work to implement school-based prevention programs, school sealant programs, fluoride mouthrinse programs, and water fluoridation in communities.
The federal government has a direct impact on dental care delivery. The department responsible for many entities of dental care is the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the U.S. Public Health Service, although other departments’ decisions affect dental care in some instances.
Higher educational programs of dentistry, dental hygiene, and public health can have a tremendous influence on the infrastructure by providing leadership and consulting roles in policy development and operation, and by graduating students capable of working to improve the dental public health infrastructure.
Providers of dental care include dental hygienists, dentists, denturists, dental assistants, and dental technicians. Although most dental hygienists are employed through private practice dentists, many dental hygiene positions are available in government organizations. The Tomar Report on Dental Public Health Infrastructure is a great tool that would help any dental hygienist wishing to pursue a career in dental public health or understand more about dental public health infrastructure.
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,” (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.