Dental hygiene in Australia

March 1, 2012
Each year, 3M ESPE Dental Products works with its global subsidiaries to provide dental educators the opportunity to collaborate ...

Each year, 3M ESPE Dental Products works with its global subsidiaries to provide dental educators the opportunity to collaborate with their international colleagues and provide one another with continuing education. In 2011, Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH, MSDH, was asked to participate and serve as a representative of U.S. dental hygiene education.

Michelle lectures extensively on CAMBRA and herbal and dietary supplements, and is a full-time faculty member at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. Being chosen to participate in this event honored and challenged Michelle. She was asked to speak at the Dental Hygienists’ Association of Australia (DHAA) national meeting in Darwin, Australia, which is located in the Northern Territory of Australia and meets every two years.

Michelle presented two programs — “CAMBRA Down Under” and “Demystifying Calcium Phosphate Therapy.” After attending the national meeting, she also lectured at other educational forums in Perth (Western Australia), Melbourne (Victoria), Sydney (New South Wales), and Brisbane (Queensland). Several of the presentations were adapted to meet her Australian colleagues’ needs, including “Back to the Basics – Radiographic Interpretation,” and “New Age Dental Care — Natural Products and Oral Health.”

Michelle enjoyed studying the many ways Australians use herbal and dietary supplements, ways that are both similar and different than those of Americans. The information she collected for her programs can now be incorporated into her U.S. programs, which will help provide a more global perspective.

Michelle was honored to speak not only with dental hygienists, but also with dental therapists and oral health therapists. Dental hygiene in Australia is similar to dental hygiene in the United States, but with some subtle differences. In Australia, there are three categories of dental hygiene practitioners — dental hygienists, dental therapists, and a new category called oral health therapists, a combination of dental hygienist and dental therapist.

Dental hygienists perform clinical procedures, like in the U.S., and practice primarily in private dental offices. Dental therapists provide routine clinical dental treatment to children, adolescents, and young adults, including restoring decayed areas, extracting teeth under local anesthetic, as well as traditional hygiene services. Dental therapists do not treat adults and typically work in public health settings.

Children in Australia receive free dental care until age 18. Oral health therapists work with both children and adults to provide all the services that dental therapists and dental hygienists are able to provide. To become an oral health therapist, one must possess a bachelor of science in oral health.

For each of Michelle’s courses, she adapted her regular presentations to reflect the diverse nature of dental hygiene in Australia. “CAMBRA Down Under” introduced Australian clinicians to the process of care used to determine strategies to prevent and manage caries infection, which have increased over the years in all age groups. Through this program participants learn to:

  • Recognize the value of performing a caries risk assessment on all patients
  • Differentiate between the clinical protocols used to manage caries
  • Identify dental products available for patient interventions using CAMBRA principles

“Demystifying Calcium Phosphate Therapy” discusses demineralization and remineralization in the dental caries process, explains the importance of calcium phosphate in remineralization, and identifies calcium phosphate products available for patient interventions.

Michelle’s “Back to Basics – Radiographic Interpretation” helps clinicians understand radiological pathology and normal anatomy while increasing their ability to interpret radiographic findings. Using audience response systems (clickers), Michelle reviews normal anatomic landmarks, technique and processing errors seen on radiographs, abnormal anatomy and lesions, and supplementary techniques.

“New Age Dental Care: Natural Products and Oral Health” discusses natural products used to treat illness and maintain wellness. Herbal and dietary supplements are the fastest growing categories of self-medication both in the U.S. and Australia. From an evidence-based perspective, this course reviews the top dietary supplements, including product descriptions, popular uses, active ingredients, dosage, interactions, and safety.

During her visit, Michelle was able to take some time to travel and sightsee. She especially enjoyed her trip to Adelaide, where she toured the famous Australian wine country. Australia’s major cities are located along the coastline and have geography similar to Michelle’s home state of California. Traveling across the equator, she experienced the mild Australian winter, with temperatures ranging from the 50s in the southern part of the country to the humid 80s in the northern part. What a contrast to American winters!

Michelle discovered early that Australians have many colloquialisms. For example, CAMBRA, which is an acronym for caries management by risk assessment, when spoken sounds very much like the pronunciation of the country’s capitol, Canberra. For her first presentation, whenever she said “CAMBRA,” she heard a lot of snickering but didn’t understand why. It wasn’t until someone let her in on the joke that she realized what was happening. After a day of sightseeing at a national park, an Australian colleague told her she “looked stuffed.” Michelle replied that she wasn’t stuffed, just tired and hungry from a long day of traveling. The colleague said, “Exactly! You’re stuffed.”

Michelle felt privileged to have the chance to speak in Australia. Whether in Australia or the U.S., dental hygiene professionals are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care for all patients. Michelle feels her experiences in Australia have enhanced her traditional programs. She is grateful to 3M ESPE Dental Products for providing her the opportunity for this incredible experience.

For more information on Michelle and her programs, contact [email protected].

Thought for the month:

Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good; try to use ordinary situations. (Jean Paul Richter).

This month’s INeedCE course is “A Clinical Report on Chairside Whitening.” RDH magazine readers will receive 47% off the course fee when code AMMAR12 is used. Visit to view the course.

Patients continue to desire whiter teeth, and demand for tooth whitening continues to grow. Options available include in-office tooth whitening with or without a lamp, office-dispensed home-use products, and a variety of over-the-counter products.

In addition to being a procedure that patients want, tooth whitening is a great practice builder. Patients should be carefully assessed before starting a tooth whitening treatment. This includes examinations for erosion, caries, abrasion, and defective restorations. The type of stain and its cause must be decided in order to determine the likely success and speed of tooth whitening.

Educating patients on their options, what is involved in a tooth whitening procedure, management of potential sensitivity, and what they will need to do are important components in the decision to whiten teeth, and the likelihood of patient compliance and success. With good case selection, tooth whitening is straightforward, effective, and a welcome adjunctive treatment.

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. Ann-Marie is currently a business/clinical advisor for Jameson Management, Inc., a comprehensive coaching firm and also presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. She is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at amrdh@
or [email protected].

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