Recently, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association changed the roles of dental hygienists from six roles to five - educator, researcher, administrator/manager, advocate, and clinician - with public health inherent in all roles. The goal of this action is to create a clearly identified set of expectations for all dental hygienists. This should help facilitate further growth in the role of hygienists, who are vitally important frontline health-care providers.
Although this may not be a total shift in focus, this step definitely acknowledges that dental hygienists focus attention at all times on the delivery of dental care to all populations. All dental hygienists must consider the public’s health (the oral health of the whole population) and be able to function in five roles to affect the public’s health. Although our current dental care delivery systems function primarily in a private sector realm, the ADHA is directing efforts toward solutions to oral health disparities in all populations.
Dental hygienists are practicing in an exciting time. Due to the Surgeon General’s Oral Health Report in 2000 and subsequent governmental reports, dental health receives a lot of publicity. It is common to hear newscasts about studies on the relationship between oral health and preterm birth, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, or how the burden of oral diseases and their treatment suggest oral health disparities. We also know that Americans are placing an unprecedented value on “white teeth.” I doubt there is a hygienist who hasn’t been asked about tooth whitening. In other words, our society is taking dental care seriously.
Dental hygienists seem to be in the right place at the right time. They are in a position to significantly improve the nation’s health by making positive changes in the delivery of dental care in the coming years. And the best news is that the ADHA is leading the way for hygienists to do just that - make a difference to Americans in need!
In fact, the ADHA is paying considerable attention to public health. A decade ago, upon recommendation from a special committee, the ADHA established the Council on Public Health. Moreover, the ADHA maintains a public health Web page within the www.adha.org Web site for pertinent information about public health issues, links, and contacts.
More recently, the ADHA established a public health consultant position. The description is to be a consultant to ADHA members when they have questions about public health endeavors, and to serve as an advisor to the Council on Public Health and ADHA staff in all public health issues. Further, the ADHA has increased efforts to foster solid relationships with the American Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors and the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, two premier dental public health organizations.
Additionally, the ADHA has established the Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner (ADHP), a position that should help meet some oral health needs of the public. The ADHP will provide preventive and basic restorative oral health care - easily accessible primary care - to more people who have limited or no access to oral health care services.
Hygienists are fortunate to have a professional group that advocates for the public and those in need of dental care, while supporting the profession. Personally, I think Dr. Alfred Fones, who established dental hygiene as a means to prevent diseases, would be very happy with the strides the ADHA has made and is still working on, which is bringing dental care to all Americans!
Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is an associate professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health,” (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.