Call me blissfully ignorant, if you will. But Larry Clark of Pulpdent recently pointed out to me that 70% of restorations replace failed restorations. I didn’t realize the percentage was so high. The percentage is probably spot on to anyone who works daily in the trenches. It is common sense too. I’m not a big fan of painting, so the old stuff has to be somewhat unsightly before a new coat is applied. The oil in my car is changed 100% of the time when required. Too much money is invested in the vehicle I drive to do otherwise. There’s a whole list of things that need to be replaced eventually, including dental restorations.
The point is that prevention in dentistry minimizes the number of times a restoration will be required in the first place. So, while there’s another long list of occupations becoming obsolete as a result of technological evolution, dental hygiene isn’t one of them. Thanks to the strength of nature’s enamel, prevention mitigates repair. While many workers wonder about the long-term prospects for a career, dental hygienists can preach and treat for prevention in dental offices, schools, nursing homes, etc.
How happy are dental hygienists about their long-term prospects? Too much of a dental hygienist’s contentment over his or her career choice is dependent on the value placed on prevention by those who repair teeth. These are the doctors, of course, and health ethics requires them to advocate for the prevention of disease. Dental hygienists, though, are still too reliant on dentists for compensation and prestige as fellow health-care providers. The amount of respect given by dentists for the dental hygiene profession is all over the map - too much variation in the respect given to dental hygienists.
RDH eVillage published the results of its career satisfaction survey this spring. A third of dental hygienists are “very positive or optimistic” about the “current state” of the profession, and a third are very positive or optimistic about the profession’s future. The rest of dental hygienists have mixed or negative feelings about it.
The first and easy response to this underwhelming level of enthusiasm is organized hygiene. The same survey included a question about membership in a dental hygiene association, and it is obvious that dental hygienists continue to reject participation in a professional association (ironically, 37% of members are very positive about dental hygiene’s future compared to 29% of nonmembers). The American Dental Hygienists’ Association has tried very hard to apply a fresh coat of paint on the profession in recent years. The ADHA, though, can only accomplish a certain amount of its objectives with limited participation from the profession.
How do we then raise the excitement level in the dental hygiene profession? This is the question that I hope authors and readers will help answer.