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Beyond the Dental Operatory

What does the future of dental hygiene look like? Since the beginning of our profession, this has been an ongoing question.

What does the future of dental hygiene look like? Since the beginning of our profession, this has been an ongoing question. Today, most of our colleagues work in the clinical realm, and their focus continues to be providing care in private dental practices and sometimes with larger group practices or dental support organizations.

That said, what does the future of dental hygiene really look like? Are we destined to work predominantly in a dental office environment? For an example on how to expand our horizons, look no further than the Wheeling Health Right clinic in West Virginia.

Wheeling Health Right is a medical clinic that has fully integrated oral healthcare services into its services. Opened in 1987 to serve low-income individuals in the Wheeling, West Virginia area, the clinic added dental services in 2016.

Most important, the first oral healthcare professional hired by the clinic was a dental hygienist, Tracy Kiaski, RDH. The clinic’s forward-thinking Executive Director Kathie Brown realized the important connection between oral and overall health. So, when it was time to hire an oral healthcare provider, she understood that a dental hygienist was the ideal employee.

According to the Wheeling Health Right website, “Oral health plays a critical role in general health and well-being. People who have access to routine dental care can reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.” Yes, you read that correctly…from a medical clinic’s website…BRAVO!


To receive dental care at the clinic, an individual must be an established medical patient at Wheeling Health Right. The clinic truly provides medical/dental integration, with medical personnel and dental personnel routinely consulting with one another regarding patient care.

A perfect example of such integration is how every patient who smokes must undergo a tobacco cessation program, and all patients must commit to improving their overall health. Patients check in with the medical clinic personnel prior to their appointments at the dental clinic. Procedures such as exams, radiographs, restorations, extractions, and more are provided by volunteer dentists and dental students from West Virginia University.

Kiaski enthusiastically provides dental hygiene services, oral health instructions, and, most important, a kind and empathetic demeanor. Kiaski explains, “A lot of my time is spent earning trust from my patients. Most of them have not had dental care for many years due to financial constraints. They are frightened and they are in pain. I explain how to manage their pain and infection and what they can expect when they see
the dentist.”

Wheeling Health Right is an ideal model for the future of medical/dental integration. The clinic provides patient-centered care that includes both an oral and systemic health focus, and dental hygienists are key to this type of care. Kiaski agrees, “There is a huge world beyond the dental operatory. We should be offering our knowledge and skills to as many people as possible and helping to create a positive outcome in healthcare by improving oral and overall health.”

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief

For more comments from Tracy Kiaski, RDH, and how she expanded her practice setting, click here. And to learn more about Wheeling Health Right, visit:

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. March 2023; 21(3)6.

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