To keep advancing forward

Sept. 10, 2013
I recently returned from attending the historic ADHA annual session in Boston, and it really made me excited to be part of such a wide-reaching, healthy movement ...

by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS

I recently returned from attending the historic ADHA annual session in Boston, and it really made me excited to be part of such a wide-reaching, healthy movement that has played such a significant part in American history. The association's historical exhibit booth was extraordinary. Watching the procession into the hall during the plenary session was awesome, as dental hygienists from the United States and around the world marched in to pay gratitude to the birth of dental hygiene 100 years ago.

The generated excitement that I felt celebrating the history and advancement of dental hygiene was extraordinary. I believe other dental hygienists felt similarly, at least as indicated by their expressions and words. Remembering the difficulties of starting such a unique health profession and the related struggles to educate the public and dental profession, should help the profession when outlining the future plans to advance the profession. In other words, this significant anniversary can well serve as a pivotal point where the profession can continue to promote dental hygiene to the public, and continue collaborating with dentistry to make advances that improve the public's overall health and well-being.


Other articles by Christine Nathe


Another really interesting part of the annual session was the distribution of a special commemorative Issue of the Journal of Dental Hygiene, which was funded by GlaxoSmithKline. The articles in this issue included the history of dental hygiene practice, education, research and scholarly works, advancing the profession and an actual excerpt written by Dr. Fones, himself, titled "The Origin and History of Dental Hygienists," which was originally published in 1926.

While describing the history of the dental hygiene movement, Fones cited an editorial published in 1844 in the American Journal of Dental Science, and he stated that many times the hygiene of the teeth was almost totally neglected. He further cited another editorial published in 1865, and advanced the idea that diet played a role in oral health. Then in 1870, a paper was published that brought attention to plaque removal by brush and prophylactic means and with time, he had referenced more dental pioneers who placed emphasis on the need for preventive education and patient instruction.

He then described his perspective on the movement he started originally in Bridgeport, Conn. After providing prophylaxis in his office for several years, Dr. Fones, found it no longer feasible to carry on these treatments without aid, and undertook the instruction of Irene Newman, who would subsequently be remembered as the first dental hygienist in the world. By 1909, Dr. Fones was so excited about the results of having a dental hygienist in his practice, he inaugurated a campaign to secure similar preventive dental services to Bridgeport school children. And although it took four years of strenuously convincing city officials, the concept was eventually advanced. In 1913, an announcement was issued for the first course for dental hygienists in Bridgeport.

Appropriately, upon graduation these dental hygienists began their pioneer work in the schools, and research was instituted from the beginning, so that results could be provided to see if the profession indeed promoted optimum oral health. As we know from these original research results and our own practice, results of dental hygiene are indeed good for oral health!

An interesting note that Dr. Fones added was that there was never, at any time, any organized opposition for the dental hygienists from the dentists of Connecticut. The spirit of cooperation was felt everywhere, which accounts in a great measure for the fact that Connecticut was the first state in the country to make a rapid advancement in this movement.

Looking back at the lessons of history, we need to focus as a profession on continuing to advance policies and regulations that improve oral health, making sure that the education of dental hygienists is paramount to advancements of the services we provide. We must continue researching our science, so that we continue to advance our practice. We must strive to promote oral health to the public and continuing working and collaborating with the profession of dentistry to ultimately improve the public's overall health! RDH

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

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