Editor's Note

Jan. 1, 2013
I want to say happy birthday emphatically.

I want to say happy birthday emphatically. The need to say “Happy birthday!” with an emphasis is likely based on reading too many comments from hygienists who feel discouraged about the direction of their profession under the control of organized dentistry.

Happy birthday! Your generation has helped carry the dental hygiene profession to the 100-year mark, and thousands upon thousands of patients have you to thank for diagnosing and preventing serious health issues — primarily oral health conditions, but not exclusively so.

I have asked the RDH columnists to comment on your birthday at some point during the coming year. Prizes will be awarded throughout the year, so pay attention to the columnists in 2013. The ADHA, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 10 years, is recognizing the importance of your birthday by hosting its annual session in Boston this summer and commemorating 100 years of the profession in a variety of ways.

As I sat down to write this, I was looking for some kind of indication that somebody liked you very much at the beginning. Was Dr. Alfred Fones, your father, some kind of crackpot who caused the neighbors to be resentful of his dental hygiene progeny?

“Al, ol’ buddy, you stress me out something awful. Can’t you cut your lawn at least once a week? And what’s up with these dental hygienists of yours? They’ll want to get paid. Next thing you know they’ll want benefits too. On top of everything else, they prevent these oral health problems that are my bread and butter. Come on, Bubba, get on the gravy train with the rest of us.”

I invite any dental historian to set the record straight, since I am not a historian. But a quick search of related information in consumer media reveals a generally smooth transition for the profession. The Institute of Medicine refers to Dr. Fones working hard at “convincing” the city of Bridgeport, Conn. — the birthplace of dental hygiene — to contribute funds for his first public health initiatives for dental hygiene. The city’s library reported that “many” were “scoffing at the idea that people would go to the dentist regularly to have their teeth cleaned.” But it is a little vague on who the “many” were. The University of Bridgeport said those funds added up to $46,000 in 1913, allowing Dr. Fones to set up the first dental hygiene school. “Classroom lectures were given by local dentists, dental instructors from nearby Yale and Columbia Universities, and even by professionals from Japan,” according to the university.

Sounds pretty cordial. Professional sources paint a slightly tougher welcome for the profession. The Connecticut Dental Hygienists’ Association said Dr. Fones’ training of Irene Newman, the first dental hygienist, occurred “against the support of many health professionals.” The state association, though, used that phrase in an article touting the benefits of advanced dental hygiene practitioners, the midlevel position that organized dentistry generally does not support.

What’s the harshest lack of embracing of dental hygiene in the early years of the profession that I saw? Take a guess ... wait for it ... the American Dental Association.

Dr. Daniel Minnis in November 2011 wrote, “Dr. Albert Fones trained the first dental hygienist despite opposition from colleagues. It took another 45 years before the ADA Council on Dental Education worked with other organizations to establish accreditation standards.”

Before you get the wrong impression about Dr. Minnis, in case you are applying for a job at his Kansas practice, he also wrote, “Dr. Fones realized in 1906 that a dental hygienist, the first midlevel provider, could work with the dental team and provide quality care coupled with tremendous prevention education. Where would we be without the registered dental hygienist today?” Dr. Minnis was writing to his colleagues in support of a midlevel “registered dental practitioner” position in Kansas. He concluded his plea by saying, “Let’s not make the same mistake we did, by fighting Dr. Fones in 1906, and delaying tremendous care for 45 years.”

Again, these sentiments by Dr. Minnis were expressed on the eve before dental hygiene’s 99th year in dentistry, not in 1913. So there is hope. No matter how discouraged you become with dentists as employers, there are still many rays of sunshine that validate the dental hygiene profession each day. You have made a difference.

Happy birthday!

Mark Hartley
[email protected]
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