Th 225237

The power of the word in Advertising

Sept. 1, 2006
How about using the word hygienist in consumer advertising?
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How about using the word hygienist in consumer advertising?

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During the past few years, an increasing amount of advertising recognizes dental hygienists. This may be just as important, if not more so, than the legislation that removes restrictions on our scope of practice. Most ads that sell oral health products address the expertise of dentists, despite the fact that dental hygienists are the primary educators of oral health concerns.

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With the slow but definite switch to referencing dental hygienists, advertisers are providing support for dental hygienists’ professionalism. The advertising also helps consumers by pointing to the most appropriate professional for advice on oral health products. As this happens, consumers will be better able to distinguish between appointments with dentists and dental hygienists. The dentist primarily corrects problems, and the hygienist primarily prevents problems.

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Colgate recently mentioned dental hygienists in an advertisement and received many thanks for appealing to our expertise in recommending their products. The company also agreed to purchase Tom’s of Maine, which promotes natural products and has a history of working well with dental hygienists. Tom’s of Maine will now have more resources behind it to promote its products. Continuing to partner with dental hygienists should help both companies flourish.

Another product, BreathRx, also recently mentioned dental hygienists. On their television advertisement, BreathRx specified dental hygienists as the people to consult for advice on their products. Additionally, Discus Dental, the manufacturer of BreathRx, has documents written by dental hygienists in its patient-oriented Dental Health and Wellness section, as well as dental hygienists’ role in oral health. This is a tremendous improvement from their claim in the 1990s that “only a dentist” is capable of providing the services the company’s products offer.

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It is not merely a matter of semantics. Many people may argue that since dental hygienists are so closely associated with dentists, people will associate any activity done in the dental office as being done by the dentist. However, it is becoming more common for dental hygienists to work without dentists. The former wording disenfranchises dental hygienists from the opportunity to offer those services. Consumers who would otherwise see a dental hygienist might pass up the opportunity because they would not recognize the availability of the service. Also, consumers visiting a dental hygienist regularly, whether in a sole proprietorship or a dentist’s office, might not trust that provider due to lack of recognition by the company.

By identifying all relevant professionals as experts, companies help promote the free market of products, services, and ideas. A free market is better for consumers in the short term because it allows them better access to services, and in the long term because businesses have motivation to improve their services.

Johnson & Johnson had a campaign that promoted nurses and didn’t even mention any of their products. Their advertisements demonstrated the goodwill their company has toward consumers and health professionals whose contributions often go unnoticed.

Brochures and Web pages are a good way for manufacturers to help us educate clients while promoting their products. These types of marketing materials can educate clients about the products and our profession quite well because they are in useful formats that consumers can refer to often.

OraPharma, the makers of Arestin, produced a brochure that explained the value of localized delivery of antibiotics. It mentioned that dental hygienists as well as dentists and periodontists are able to recognize and treat periodontal diseases.

This comes as a pleasant surprise after the numerous brochures by many companies that explained how dentists measure their pockets, diagnose, and treat disease, despite the fact that dental hygienists do most of the diagnostic procedures that determine that root planing is needed. Their Web site even states, “Dentists and registered dental hygienists can tell how severe a patient’s periodontitis is by measuring pocket depth and reviewing X-rays,” and “Both can administer Arestin.”1 This reflects the position of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association2 that the dental hygiene diagnosis is the foundation of dental hygiene treatment.

Some manufacturers are slowly testing the waters by referring to our expertise in more general terms, such as using the term “dental professionals” instead of “dentist” or “dental hygienist.” Procter & Gamble, for example, has a brochure that instructs parents to “Ask your dental professional how these Crest products can help your child create good oral health habits.3” Some P&G advertisements mention dental hygienists specifically. Companies are slowly but surely acknowledging our expertise on their Web pages.

Improving the recognition of dental hygienists will promote a higher standard of education and care. We will command more respect from clients, legislators who decide what work we may do, other health professionals, and ourselves. By speaking up, we can help manufacturers alter the way they advertise.


1 Orapharma (2005) Arestin. Retrieved June 18, 2006 on

2 American Dental Hygienists’ Association (June 2005) Dental Hygiene Diagnosis Position Paper. Chicago: ADHA.

3 Procter & Gamble (2002) How can I keep my mouth healthy? Cincinnati: Proctor and Gamble.

Contacting companies

Dental hygienists need to comment to manufacturers about our concerns. They want to improve their marketing in ways that reach more consumers, and our advice can help.
Write, e-mail, or call manufacturers.
➥ Thank those who mention dental hygienists.
➥ Suggest to those who do not mention dental hygienists to mention us.
Explain why dental hygienists should be identified as experts.
➥ Dental hygienists are the primary educators of consumers in dental offices.
➥ Consumers need to be aware of dental hygienists’ expertise.
Explain how identifying the dental hygienist helps the manufacturer.
➥ Dental hygienists want to identify the best products to clients.
➥ Our advice will not work if it falls on deaf ears.
➥ Dental hygienists need to identify products whose manufacturers recognize our expertise publicly.

Howard M. Notgarnie, RDH, MA, practices dental hygiene in Colorado, and has eight years’ experience in official positions in dental hygiene associations at the state and local levels.