Show others your healthy behavior: Dental hygienists can lead by example

March 14, 2017
Christine Nathe believes dental hygienists can influence the community through leading by example with healthy behavior.  


Healthy behaviors are actions that help prevent disease and promote heath. One phenomenon I've noticed among dental hygienists is the integration of healthy behaviors in their everyday lives and work lives. I do not mean to suggest that every dental hygienist, at all times, practices healthy behaviors. But I have noticed a multitude of healthy practices by many dental hygienists on a daily basis.

That being said, how does this behavior promote oral health within our communities? In other words, is there an overall effect on the health of communities? A healthy behavior may be as simple as choosing water over a sugar-filled sports drink.

It is important to note two additional definitions. Health education can be defined as instruction regarding healthy behaviors that help bring someone to a state of health awareness, such as teaching the proper flossing technique, whereas health promotion is a process that motivates people to adopt healthy behaviors to enhance their health and prevent disease.1 Theoretically, the practice and value of healthy behaviors by dental hygienists could in essence promote health in the dental hygienist's community.

Of course, studies could be conducted to assess the effect of dental hygienists leading by example within their communities. Some examples I've seen include a dental hygienist who promoted a Halloween candy trade-in program in a middle school to encourage a decrease in the consumption of sugar-filled candies in a particularly high-risk group. I've heard of dental hygienists filling their children's Valentine cards for schoolmates with pencils and other noncandy fillings. I've heard of hygienists decreasing candy fundraising in groups and developing creative ideas for other fundraising opportunities that did not involve sugary foods. One dental hygienist was able to convince a school to replace a vending machine filled with sugary drinks with bottled water. This was great because it promoted the healthy drink concept to students.

Actually, a dental hygienist (my mother) taught me to eat my carrots or apple last at meals so that I could decrease my chances of tooth decay. You know what? I remember my teacher asking why I chose to eat those foods after my dessert. When I told her, she adopted the same behavior, and I know this because she thanked my mom for the tip!

There are many ways that dental hygienists can educate the public and promote healthy behaviors to positively influence the public health. The first can be a natural for most dental hygienists-show by example! RDH


Nathe CN. Dental Public Health and Research. 4th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2017.

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.