Caring for the public remains our top priority

I am in my seventh year of affiliation with the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH), an organization that represents the interests of dental hygienists worldwide.

by JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD
jargphd@verizon.net

I am in my seventh year of affiliation with the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH), an organization that represents the interests of dental hygienists worldwide. During the early summer prior to the International Symposium on Dental Hygiene in Scotland, the IFDH hosted a House of Delegates Workshop that addressed professional topics of interest concerning evidence-based practice, interprofessional collaboration, disease prevention and health promotion, and reframing dental hygiene education. This was the first time the delegates had two days to talk, brainstorm, network, and create goals for the profession and the IFDH for the future – thanks to the generous support of the IFDH and Procter & Gamble.

After the delegates had an opportunity to complete their discussions about the above mentioned topics, they were asked to create another set of desired outcomes for the profession and to improve the health of the public – something that we could look forward to in the long term.

This discussion had a profound effect on me. One of the goals continues to reverberate as something that is so simple and yet so essential. The goal was to make sure that every child had a toothbrush and knew how to use it.

Now, take a moment and just let that thought settle in your brain.

It is remarkable that in this century we have children and even families worldwide who don't have a toothbrush. Some families have to share one toothbrush. Even if a child has a toothbrush, does he/she know how to use it?

Because we live in the United States and not a Third World country, one would assume that all children in our country have a toothbrush. Not so. You are all familiar with the Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health, and have probably heard about the Pew report ("The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children") that indicated that most of our states have earned a grade of "C" or less in terms of managing tooth decay. This begs the question: What are we doing to improve the oral health of the public?

Our collective oral health professions have many goals in mind – political, education, research, and practice. However, ensuring that every child has a toothbrush and knows how to use it is not a political agenda. It is a reflection of each oral health profession's priority. Caring for the public and improving their oral health is our main priority. Dental hygienists are known as the prevention specialists.

I encourage you to take a moment and bring up this topic at your next study club, component meeting, state-wide, or national meeting. Talk about what you can do as a health-care provider to address this concern. Establish this as your goal for 2011.

Locally, step out of the operatory with your employer and dental staff, and visit community centers in your area. Identify their need for toothbrushes and provide education on how to use them.

Document this service so that you can demonstrate that you have helped your community. Too often, we are left in the position of having to justify our professional growth and legislative initiatives. Documenting what we do and the difference it makes for the public is essential so we, and others who are in positions of power, can recognize our professional value.

Something tells me that we can all make this aim a reality if we try. It may not be fully accomplished at the end of 2011, but we will certainly show the public that improving their health is important.

JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing-education programs to health-care providers. She is a graduate program faculty at Idaho State University, adjunct faculty at Burlington County College and Montgomery County College, and president-elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

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