We finished an issue of RDH Graduate, a digital newsletter for dental hygiene students and recent graduates. I was curious about which campuses are generally considered to offer the best training and education for tomorrow’s dental hygienists. The search results offered two “rankings” at the top of the list. With one ranking, dental hygiene schools in New York City, Oregon, and South Dakota were the top three. As far as I could tell, the schools’ efforts to provide degree completions was a significant factor.
I kept scrolling down. The fourth-ranked dental hygiene program (out of 50) is in my hometown. Tulsa does offer an associate’s degree program at a downtown campus, and the University of Oklahoma has a satellite campus in Bartlesville, which isn’t that far away.
I don’t drive downtown or to Bartlesville very often. But I drive by the campus of the fourth-ranked dental hygiene program every single day. It’s about halfway between my house and PennWell. There’s one problem. It’s a dental assisting program. Period. There’s at least one dental hygienist on the faculty, but the program’s website says its students “will get exposure to various career paths as a dental assistant, from orthodontics and periodontics to general dentistry, among others.” Maybe dental hygiene is one of those “other” things that aspiring dental professionals can hope to achieve.
The other ranking listed among the top search results was compiled by an organization promoting online education. The fourth-ranked campus on this list is not in my neighborhood. It’s the Western Iowa Tech Community College. Once the dental hygiene courses are completed, the “students qualify to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board Examination. If they pass the exam, they receive a national dental assistant certification.” The associate’s degree is for a “pre-dental hygiene emphasis.” A visit to the website gives all of the indications that the students are well-prepared for a career in assisting, and they can easily make the adjustment to a dental hygiene education, if desired.
But is this the country’s fourth best “dental hygiene program of 2018”?
Although it wisely avoids ranking dental hygiene schools, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association appears high among the search results too. The association is very straightforward with providing basic information about the options in dental hygiene education. The person other than me who types in the search query of “best dental hygiene schools” is likely a high school student (or a parent). Why can’t an aspiring dental professional find a reputable ranking for dental hygiene programs?
Why does the profession persist with a vague communication that there are two occupations available in dentistry—the dentist and the rest of the staff? By lumping dental assisting programs in with dental hygiene programs, there’s just a general confusion about what exactly all of those ladies and gentlemen in scrubs do. It’s clear to patients that allied dental health professionals provide a valuable health-care service, but what’s the difference between them? The dental profession needs to clean up its message regarding the occupations for dental hygienists and dental assistants.