by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
I recently read an article regarding facts about America in the newspaper on a Sunday morning. The article described states in a variety of areas, comparing states that are the most vegetarian friendly, and those that have the most adults that do not get enough rest. A wide variety of areas were addressed, and the data came from a variety of sources. Particularly interesting to me were the states that had the most reported recent dental visits. Number one on the list, of course, was Connecticut. It was followed by Massachusetts and three other New England states to round out the top five. Those of you that read this column regularly probably know why I inserted “of course” before Connecticut.
I believe that Connecticut dental hygienists have played a major role in the preventive dental sciences for years, and that may have something to do with the values reflected in the reported dental visits. Dr. Alfred C. Fones founded dental hygiene as a science and practice in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the early 1900s. Since I had the opportunity to teach at Fones School and practice in Connecticut, I was able to learn quite a bit about the value of dental health in Connecticut. I actually provided dental hygiene to several patients in nursing facilities who were patients of Dr. Fones and Irene Newman, the first dental hygienist.
This was a few decades ago, but I was surprised by how many people in Connecticut knew what a dental hygienist did, and that a college education and board examination was required for a dental hygienist to practice. I remember meeting a patient in one of the facilities who wanted to make sure I was actually “licensed” as a dental hygienist. In fact, it was in Connecticut that I felt dental hygiene was a well-respected profession. By the way, I do feel that dental hygiene now has a universal and well-deserved respect, but maybe I’m biased or just too proud of the profession to realize otherwise.
When we look at the various theories of how values are acquired, the one thing that remains is that it takes time to permanently change values. Dental hygienists in Connecticut have been around for almost a century, and we see that Connecticut leads the nation in recent dental visits reported per person. Interestingly, in the data reported by the National Oral Health Surveillance System, Connecticut also has the lead in the dental hygiene-inspired indicator that describes the number of adults over age 18 who have had their teeth cleaned during the past year. Again, I may be biased, but there may be a correlation between people visiting dental offices and having a dental cleaning and the fact that dental hygienists have been abundant in Connecticut schools, nursing facilities, public clinics, and dental offices for years.
I know there are other contributing factors, but I believe that the values populations place on dental health are acquired, and that not all people value dental care. I believe that dental hygienists have played a major role in America’s value of dental health care.
State data on dental visits and cleanings may be interesting to all readers, so the figures in this article display these comparative rankings. Other interesting dental facts can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/nohss/index.htm.
And a big thank you to all past and present Connecticut dental hygienists for leading the way since 1913!
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” (www.pearsonhighered.com/educator), which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.
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