Transforming Dental Hygiene

Oct. 16, 2014
By now, you may have heard something about the Transformation project.


By now, you may have heard something about the Transformation project. This is an initiative of the ADHA to advance dental hygiene by developing solutions that address the trends occurring in dental care. The ADHA initiated the project with the help of the Santa Fe Group. As described on their website, the Santa Fe Group is a unique group of internationally renowned scholars and leaders from business and the professions bound by a common interest to improve oral health. Together, the group strives to be catalysts of positive change by leading the assembly of decision-makers and stakeholders to generate innovative solutions for fundamental health system problems.1

In collaboration with the ADHA, the Santa Fe Group hosted an invitational workshop in the fall of 2014 to foster ideas to help transform the practice of dental hygiene to meet the oral health needs of society. Following this meeting, a group of dental hygiene program directors collaborated to develop goals (see table) and domains necessary for dental hygiene providers of the future.

This group further drafted models on how to implement these competencies into existing dental hygiene curriculum. These were presented at the ADHA 2014 Annual Session in Las Vegas.

The truth is, change is inevitable, and if we become students of history, we realize that change is constant. Realizing this, it is imperative that dental hygienists understand history and current trends and capitalize on the changing dynamics seen in our demographics, infrastructure, economy, and societal values. With this understanding, dental hygiene, led by dental hygienists, can be part of the changing landscape of dental care in the country.

Particularly interesting in the public health arena are the discussions that have been generated by this transformation that imply that dental hygiene has an inherent role in dental public health, and this role will continue to evolve in dental hygiene. I do think it is quite amazing that although dental hygiene began as a preventive health profession positioned in public health settings, it has not fully been able to transform dental care in all sectors. In fact, less than half of Americans actually visit the dental hygienist regularly. We still have much work to do to make dental hygiene a reality for the majority. However, continuing to play a role in the transformation of our profession is a great way to start.


1. The Santa Fe Group retrieved on July 16, 14 from
2. ADHA Transforming Dental Hygiene Education: New Curricular Domains and Models CE Course Handout. Retrieved on July 16, 2014 from

Profession's Goals

• Understand the principles driving the proposed curricula of the future of dental hygiene.

• Identify the educational programs that are participating, and expected results from the pilot study.

• Define the dental workforce future environment model, which includes the workforce environment and patient health-care needs.

Professional Domains

Foundation knowledge - Includes integration of basic (including genetics and pharmacogenetics), behavioral, and clinical science knowledge that can be applied to patient care and functioning in all six roles of a dental hygienist.

Customized patient-centered care - Includes skills in patient assessment, dental hygiene diagnosis, and dental hygiene therapies and counseling to foster oral and systemic health. Includes the dental hygiene process of care.

Health care systems - Works within the oral care system and with the broader health-care system to promote and foster optimal health. Includes leadership, advocacy, research, and business management skills, as well as skills of a change agent to integrate oral health into health systems.

Communication and collaboration - Communication skills with patients, peers, and other health-care professionals and health-care teams to foster health and health behavior. In addition to oral communication, the dental hygienist must possess a high level of written communication skills, and the ability to effectively communicate with technologies. Includes intraprofessional and interprofessional communication and collaboration skills.

Professionalism - Inculcates the values and ethics needed to function as a leader in oral health care and oral health promotion.

Critical thinking and research - Use of knowledge of research methods, critical evaluation of the research, and evidence-based skills in carrying out the roles of the dental hygienists in the clinic, community, and health systems.2

CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS, is 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" (, which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.