Th 151718

Defining Health

June 1, 2004
A closer examination of the ADHA definition is quite liberating.
Click here to enlarge image

by Nicole Pasquini, RDH, BS

Most practitioners would agree that the primary role of the hygiene department is to help patients achieve optimal oral health. Therefore, a critical factor in realizing the potential of the hygienist's role is defining health. Not only can this benefit the patients' health, but also the success of the hygiene department and its contribution to the practice.

Hygienists and others often think the job is limited to "cleaning teeth" — a quick scale, polish, fluoride, a little nagging about flossing, and on to the next patient. This is only part of the reason patients come to us. We not only clean teeth, we also have the ability to change people's lives by guiding them to better health. When we really understand the definition of health, we can understand our potential as professionals.

The ADHA definition of "Optimal Oral Health" offers guidelines by which we can measure our success:

"... a standard of health of the oral and related tissues which enable an individual to eat, speak, or socialize without active disease, discomfort, or embarrassment and which contributes to general well-being and overall health."

Wow! This covers so much more than "cleaning teeth." This definition clearly states that we are in the business of treating people, not mouths. Our specialty happens to be the mouth. Remember hygiene school and studying pharmacology, anatomy, histology, and physiology? There was a method to the madness! We limit ourselves when we have a restricted understanding of optimal oral health.

What do we do with this definition? We need to ask ourselves, "Are we offering patients all of the resources we have available to improve their lives?" We have so much information and so many tools available. We must be a conduit by which our patients can access these invaluable tools. We have a responsibility as health professionals to empower others and help them make informed decisions about their health.

Further dissection of the ADHA definition helps us understand what we should look for in order to assist our patients in achieving this standard of health.

"Eat, speak, socialize"

• Are they missing teeth?
• Could they be helped with bridges implants, partials or dentures?

"Active disease"

• Do they have periodontal disease?

• Do they know proper home care techniques?
• Do they have the tools and products they need?
• Do they have active caries?
• Do they have signs of oral cancer?


• Do they have advanced carious lesions needing endo?
• Do they have a TMJ disorder?
• Do they have disease contributing to discomfort?
• Do they have malocclusion?
• Do they grind or clench their teeth (parafunctional habits)?


(This aspect is often overlooked as being a part of optimal health)

• Do they need orthodontics?
• Do they want cosmetic options such as whitening, bonding, or veneers?
• Do they have discolored or esthetically poor restorations?
&bulll; Do they have bad breath?

"General well being and overall health"

• Are they pleased with their current dental status, and do they know what that is?

• Are there possible connections between their overall physical health and the health of their mouths?

By exploring these questions, it becomes apparent how necessary it is to have thorough exams including periodontal screenings, oral cancer exams, blood pressure, health history updates, and disease-detecting radiographs. It's also apparent that as we help our patients achieve health, hygienists will not only increase our own production, but the dental practice will see an increase in overall production.

When we are viewed as advocates for health, endless opportunities exist for hygienists to introduce patients to many other aspects of dentistry . It isn't just about cleaning teeth. It's about helping patients live full and healthy lives. By really understanding optimal oral health, we can empower people to change their lives, while we enjoy success in our dental practices. Everyone wins!

Nicole Pasquini, RDH BS,has practiced dental hygiene for the last four years with Drs. Roy and Chris Hammond in Utah.She has a bachelor's degree in community heath education.She can be reached at [email protected].