Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

The Wellness Model of Care

Dental hygienists are well known as the prevention experts on the oral health care team.

Dental hygienists are well known as the prevention experts on the oral health care team. Obviously, this is an important role for us, even as opportunities develop due to evolving scopes of practice. Since the inception of our profession, dental hygienists have focused on eliminating and reducing oral diseases. So it’s clear that the wellness model of care is part of our professional foundation.

The wellness model of care emphasizes health instead of disease. This concept sounds rather straightforward. But keep in mind that until the mid-20th century, health care focused solely on treating disease. While the wellness model was introduced to the medical community in the 1950s, it became more prevalent in the 1970s. According to an early book on the topic of wellness in chiropractic health care, “Wellness is a process of optimal functioning and creative adaptation involving all aspects of life.”1 This chiropractic concept is appropriate for oral health care, as well.

In the wellness model of care, the individual actively pursues optimal function in order to achieve health. Most important, the patient works in concert with the health care practitioner to achieve a state of health. And the individual takes responsibility for pursuing healthy goals through lifestyle choices. The wellness model is multidimensional—including not only physical well-being but also emotional, social, spiritual, mental, and environmental aspects of health.2 It is in the Human Needs Conceptual Model developed by Yura and Walsh in 1988 that overall wellness merges with oral wellness.3 Margaret “Peg” Walsh, RDH, MS, MA, EdD—a giant in our profession—knew long ago that the wellness foundation of dental hygiene would serve us for years to come.

The preface of the first edition of Darby and Walsh’s Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice states, “If dental hygiene is conceptualized from a human needs framework, then dental hygiene is viewed as an essential component of the health care system and as a valued entity in today’s wellness-oriented society.”4 Are we there yet? Thanks to forward thinking leaders like Dr. Walsh, we’re getting closer.

The Dimensions of Dental Hygiene team joins the entire dental hygiene community in mourning the loss of Dr. Walsh. Please read the tribute to her here. She will be greatly missed.

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief


  1. Cardinal B, Krause J. Physical Fitness: The Hub of the Wellness Wheel. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendell Hunt; 1989.
  2. Leach R. The Chiropractic Theories: A Textbook of Scientific Research. Philadelphia: Lippincottt,Williams & Wilkins; 2004.
  3. Yura H, Walsh M. The Nursing Process. 5th ed. Norwalk, Connecticut: Appleton & Lange; 1988.
  4. Darby M, Walsh M. Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 1994.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. March 2016;14(03):10.

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