What would Irene say about too many schools?

The American Dental Hygienists' Association outdid itself again for its annual session in Nashville last June.

by Mark Hartley
markh@pennwell.com
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The American Dental Hygienists' Association outdid itself again for its annual session in Nashville last June. The rain didn't fall as much as it was forecasted – a good omen for a conference that seemed to open and conclude without a glitch. A couple of events of personal interest to me were a tribute to Irene Woodall, and a special hearing for the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

First, let's talk about Woodall. As I have written here before, Irene accomplished a plethora of triumphs during her tragically shortened dental hygiene career. One of those accomplishments was serving as the editor of RDH for about 11 years when the magazine was launched in 1981.

After essentially disappearing off the radar after an aneurysm in 1993, she was "rediscovered" in a long-term care facility a little more than a year ago; the ADHA has been proactive in shining a light on the health care needs of one of dental hygiene's most prominent leaders during the 1970s and 1980s. The annual session's keynote address included a short presentation on what Irene Woodall has meant to all of us – young and old.

I am very grateful to the ADHA for doing this. Although I only met her once, I am fully aware of the impact that Irene had on the profession.

As implied above, Irene is now in a long-term care facility. She does need some financial assistance. The best way to read about the Irene R. Woodall Special Needs Trust is to visit www.adha.org/news/05052011-Woodall.htm.

I can only dream about what Irene would have said at the CODA hearing at the ADHA. But that's taking away from the performance delivered by state hygiene association leaders and the instructors from dental hygiene programs, who very bravely and concisely told the American Dental Association that there are way too many dental hygiene schools pumping out way too many graduates in an overcrowded market.

To be clear, the ADA committee just sent its lone dental hygiene representative to the CODA hearing on the last day of the ADHA program. The dentists on the committee did not attend. But the testimony was recorded in a very official manner.

Will the ADA pay attention to what your leaders said? I don't know. The rapid onslaught of new dental hygiene programs paired with the media touting the abundance of "jobs, jobs, jobs" in dental hygiene seems a little too convenient for me. But if you have called the ADHA to complain about the job market for dental hygienists, or villified the new school in your neighborhood while answering an RDH eVillage salary survey, it behooves you to keep monitoring the overabundance of dental hygiene programs that affect your plans for your career.

Much of the testimony at the hearing during the ADHA session focused on requests that the rampant construction of dental hygiene schools occur only after more sane needs-based assessments have been conducted. If a dental hygiene school is on one corner, we probably don't need another one catty-corner from it.

It is my opinion (not necessarily the ADHA's or the International Federation of Dental Hygienists') that – if we have some graders, hammers, and drywall awaiting action – the ADA could perform a very good deed by building hygiene schools in the 173 of the globe's 196 nations that are not represented in the IFDH. Global strategies to enhance oral health prevention worldwide are often discussed. Build a dental hygiene school in those countries.

I think I know why this wouldn't fly, though. If dentists think the $50 for the periodic oral exam is hardly worth a sneeze, then let's visualize their reaction to a bucket of plantains offered as co-payment.

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