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Guest Editorial: Forecasting Dental Hygiene’s Future

The ADHA is working toward ensuring the growth, health, and vitality of the profession but the destiny of dental hygiene rests with hygienists themselves.

It is the year 2030. Dental hygiene has undergone many changes in just 25 years. Mary, RDH, heads off to work as a dental hygienist in the rural part of a western state. She travels from town to town with her mobile equipment, providing education, sealants, and restorative treatment for children. When a question about oral health arises that Mary can’t answer, she uses her cellular phone to connect to the Dental Hygiene Evidence Catalog for the latest research and practice guidelines. She can also use her phone to teleconference with her team that includes a dentist, a nurse practitioner, and the oral pathologist at the state’s dental school.

Carlos, RDH, works in the state health department providing screenings, caries vaccines, and counseling on tobacco cessation. Later tonight, Carlos will be using satellite and wireless technology to participate in the statewide meeting on health promotion and community action. Across town, Serena, RDH, DrPH, the area’s geriatric hygiene specialist, completes oral cancer screenings and minor denture repairs for the community’s nursing home residents. All of these hygienists enter their patient’s data into electronic records that go into a national database of oral health, which is part of the National Study of Oral Health, a project conducted by the Dental Hygiene Research Institute in Chicago. The biggest change in dental hygiene in the past 25 years is that dental hygienists control dental hygiene-from education, to accreditation, to licensure and regulation.

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ADHA’s Future of Dental Hygiene Report

Dental hygiene in 2030 will not look the same as dental hygiene in 2004. We can strive to control our profession’s destiny or let the future happen to us. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) is leading the former course of action.

From the ADHA….
With the vast undertaking of the Future of Dental Hygiene Report, including the corresponding responsibility to its members and to the profession, ADHA reports that the review process is still actively underway and that the release date has been extended. It is crucial for ADHA to ensure the focus and direction for dental hygiene is truly represented in the final report. When the report is complete, it will be available in a variety of venues including the ADHA website.

In 2002, ADHA launched the Future of Dental Hygiene project. Dental hygienists from across the country began a 2 year-long process to seek broad input and map out a vision in several domains relevant to dental hygiene: research, education, practice and technology, licensure and regulation, public health, and government. Given the freedom to dream, here are possible highlights of the envisioned future.

  1. An advanced dental hygiene practitioner will provide direct access to care for the public. These advanced practitioners will specialize in various aspects of dental hygiene practice, such as geriatrics, public health, research, and caring for patients with special needs.
  2. As part of universal oral health care for American citizens, dental hygienists will provide preventive care for direct reimbursement.
  3. Dental hygienists, as a whole, will reflect the demographic and cultural composition of the nation facilitating delivery of culturally competent care.
  4. Dental hygiene graduates will be technologically, as well as clinically competent. They will be able to use newly emerging techniques and methods to provide optimal oral health care.
  5. Self-regulation will be a reality in all states. State dental hygiene boards will certify the competence of dental hygiene practitioners at all levels and stages of practice.
  6. The nation’s oral health care delivery system, which allowed the Surgeon General to characterize the national oral health status as a “silent epidemic” in 2000, will be the model for other facets of health care. Through research, collaboration with the health care community, and optimal use of all dental health care providers, the nation’s oral health disparities will slowly be eliminated.
  7. Dental hygiene educational programs will use distance technologies to deliver high quality education to students in all areas of the nation. All dental hygienists will earn a Bachelor of Science degree, with most going on to the master’s degree level to achieve one of the dental hygiene specialties. Doctoral programs will slowly increase in numbers.
  8. The Dental Hygiene Commission on Accreditation will accredit all levels of dental hygiene education.
  9. A vibrant community of dental hygiene researchers will increase the body of dental hygiene knowledge. All students will be able to use the results of research in providing care supported by systematically reviewed evidence.
 What Can You Do to Help Make This Future a Reality?

  1. JOIN. Maintain your membership with the ADHA and your state and componentorganizations.
  2. GET INVOLVED. Sign up for the political action committee in your local component.Write letters to local, state, and national officials when issues affecting dentalhygiene are on the table.
  3. REPRESENT THE PROFESSION OF DENTAL HYGIENE. The general public needs to beeducated about dental hygiene as a profession. Talk to your friends and familyabout your career and what dental hygiene encompasses. Join your city’sChamber of Commerce. Speak to children at local schools. Get the word out!
  4. RESPOND. Notice incorrect information about dental hygiene in a newspaperarticle, a television show, or a film? Write letters to the authors or producerseducating them about dental hygiene and encouraging them to portray theprofession accurately.
  5. MENTOR. Help a young hygienist begin his or her career with all the necessary tools.Encourage a colleague to further his or her education.
  6. FURTHER YOUR EDUCATION. Get your bachelor’s or master’s degree. Already havea master’s? Apply for a doctoral program. Today more than ever, part-timeand online options are available at many programs across the United States.
  7. CONTINUE TO LEARN. Read journals and attend continuing education courses tokeep up with the latest research and techniques.

The Future Is Up to Us

At the close of the 19th century, dental hygiene was conceptualized as a way to provide preventive care and education to school children. These dreams became reality in the 1900s. From those beginnings nearly 100 ago, dental hygiene today is an established entity across the United States. Dental hygienists fulfill many roles that benefit the nation’s oral health. However, the Surgeon General’s report made it quite clear that changes need to be made if all citizens are to enjoy the benefits of optimal oral health. By fulfilling the future of dental hygiene, dental hygienists will play an integral role in helping strengthen the nation’s oral health delivery system and in improving the American public’s oral health.

Can we achieve the vision that will be set forth in the Future of Dental Hygiene Report? That depends on each of us. The power of a single individual to make a difference can’t be discounted. If each of us works together, the future is certain. I had the honor of serving as a member of the Future of Dental Hygiene Task Force and creating a vision for the future was very exciting. I hope that each of you will join me and other hygienists in making it a reality.

Pamela Overman, RDH, EdD

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. December 2004;2(12):8, 10.


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