Joann Gurenlian 1207rdh

Don't diss hygienists

July 1, 2012
I have to admit I'm a little upset with the companies that are marketing adjunctive devices for detecting oral cancer.

BY JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD

I have to admit I'm a little upset with the companies that are marketing adjunctive devices for detecting oral cancer. I was recently asked to present a continuing education program focusing on these valuable devices and the research related to their use and effectiveness. A local dental hygiene program sponsored the program as a way to raise money for student scholarships.

Prior to my course, the dental hygiene students were presenting their table clinics. The program director and I discussed how wonderful it would be to have the companies selling adjunctive devices take part in the meeting to showcase their products and informational materials. We agreed that I would contact each company and see if they would send someone to exhibit. Calls and emails were made and sent. Guess what happened?

Nothing, nada, niets, niente, rien, ingenting, gar nichts. That's right, the companies did not respond. After multiple phone calls, voice mail messages, emails, and speaking with customer service representatives, I gave up. Six days before the course was scheduled, I did hear from one person who said she would email me a slide deck and send me some literature. I received one folder with literature, but no slides.

The course went off without a hitch, but I find it disturbing that no company took the time to say, "Not available, not interested, can't make it, but will send materials …" something! No response is worse than saying no.

You might think these groups were rude. What worries me is that they didn't think it was important to respond to a dental hygienist. I seriously toyed with the idea of having my husband call and pretend to be a dentist, just to see if they would give him a reply.

We know there will be an estimated 40,250 cases of oral and pharyngeal cancer diagnosed in 2012, and 7,850 people will die.1 We also know that early diagnosis and intervention improves prognosis and survival rates. We have an opportunity to provide better evaluations of our patients using conventional oral examination and adjunctive device screening, but how can dental hygienists learn about these technologies if companies will not acknowledge the importance of communicating with them?

According to the ADHA, there are 150,000 dental hygienists in the United States.2 Granted, we don't always have the buying power in the dental practice setting, but we certainly do have the influence. Let's not forget that hygienists are involved in educational settings, public health agencies, research, as well as independent practice settings. They may be the buyers of equipment at some point in their careers. I wonder what marketing "expert" advised these companies to discount the value of marketing to dental hygienists?

In the spirit of being generous and fair, let's pretend these companies have simply not thought of the opportunity to work with dental hygienists. Maybe they don't have the manpower or financial resources to include us in their advertising campaigns at the moment.

So, how do we get the message across that we are valuable members of health care that can and should be using their products? Here are a few thoughts.

  • Write to these companies and invite them to present at local component meetings and study clubs.
  • Invite these companies to interact with our dental hygiene students, who are future consumers of their products.
  • Request webinar courses on these products.
  • Hire dental hygienists to provide in-office education and courses.
  • Look for their exhibits at dental conventions and ask the representatives to market to dental hygienists.

Another option is for all of us to flood their phone lines and emails with messages about the value of working with hygienists. Maybe then they would get the point that we are trying to prevent oral disease and we want them to partner with us to change the statistics for oral and pharyngeal cancers, which have not changed significantly in over 50 years.

My goal with this discussion is to impress upon you the power of your voice in creating change and improving the health of the public. Let's take this proverbial lemon and make lemonade. Clearly one dental hygienist cannot make a difference. Working together, we can put the focus where it needs to be -- helping health-care providers reduce the incidence and prevalence of oral and pharyngeal cancers. RDH


1. Siegel R, Naishadham D, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2012. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012. 62(1):10-29. American Cancer Society. Oral Cancer. Accessed 4/6/12.

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 professor and interim dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, adjunct faculty at Burlington County College and Montgomery County College, and president-elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.JOANN R. GURENLIAN
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