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Guest Editorial: A New Direction

ADHA President Margaret Lappan Green, CDA, RDH, MS, and Executive Director Ann Battrell, RDH, MSDH(c), share their thoughts on the future of dental hygiene and ADHA’s new goals.

Q: How do you envision the evolution of dental hygiene in the future?

GREEN: The future of the dental hygiene profession is extremely bright and growing. According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate for dental hygiene is predicted at 43% (2004-2014).<sup>1</sup> As our numbers grow, so does our ability to serve the public. As part of the dental team, we’re seeing different types of practice evolve, such as collaborative practice and teledentistry, that will make the dental hygienist an even more valuable front line health care provider. I believe a more standardized practice code is coming. Dental hygienists have skills that are valuable across the whole spectrum of health care delivery, which will take us into serving different populations in different settings. I believe this will lead to the specialization of our practice.

Q: What is the basis for this large expectation of growth in the profession?

GREEN: Currently, we have 286 accredited, entry-level dental hygiene programs across the United States. While many baccalaureate dental hygiene programs have closed, community college- based programs are increasing. Dental hygiene is also listed as one of the top 10 fastest growing professions, which attracts people into pursuing a career in dental hygiene.

BATTRELL: Another interesting fact is that dental assisting is right behind dental hygiene with a projected growth rate of 43.1%.<sup>2</sup> When looking at our counterparts on the medical side, a similar pattern is evident, where the numbers of home health aides are on the rise because more of the allied health care professions are performing the hands-on care, while growth for dentists and physicians is decreasing or remaining constant. More and more care will be delivered by home health aides, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, dental hygienists, dental assistants, etc, in the future.

SPECIALIZATION IN DENTAL HYGIENE

Q: If dental hygiene adopts specialization, what effect will this have on education?

GREEN: Throughout the many meetings I have attended, the discussion has focused on how we can revamp dental hygiene education to accommodate the changes created by the health care system, as well as by the populations we serve. The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) is conducting a feasibility study, through the interviewing of various stakeholder groups, to find out if there is interest in specialization and to determine the level of demand for ADHA to provide a credentialing program in different areas of specialization within dental hygiene. The organization will, of course, partner with educational institutions to make this type of program available if there is, in fact, a need.

BATTRELL: The results will be ready in 2008. One of the strengths of this study is that we’re not only interviewing dental hygienists and assessing their level of interest in a certificate in perhaps pediatrics, periodontics, geriatrics, etc, but we’re also approaching dentists. We need to make sure that employers are also interested. So we’re asking all applicable parties, “Are you interested? What kind of credential would you like?” For example, the advanced dental hygiene practitioner (ADHP) would be one credential. Anecdotally, some dental hygienists have noted that they are not interested in completing the ADHP designation but they are interested in a specialty certification in dental hygiene.

GOALS FOR 2007

Q: What are some of ADHA’s specific goals for 2007?

GREEN: ADHA has five goals that we’re very excited about. Number one is that the dental hygiene community will understand the value of ADHA membership and choose to belong.

Q: How is ADHA going to accomplish this?

GREEN: ADHA has been conducting a nationwide branding campaign over the past year with focus groups of member and nonmember dental hygienists and students, as well as dentists. We’re preparing to interview consumers in January. The gathered information was presented to the board of trustees at our fall strategic planning meeting. The data are showing that ADHAdefinitely needs to change direction. The majority of students said they value membership in ADHA but feel that we’re not connecting with them. They expressed the need for a support system and mentoring. As a result, ADHA has already started creating programs that will respond specifically to these needs so we can ensure they will become active members once they become licensed. I have learned a great deal from my presidential visits ADHA presidents typically visit one state in all 12 districts, plus I am visiting as many dental hygiene schools as possible. I have visited six schools and met with students, faculty, and administration to discuss their concerns. I heard repeatedly from students that they are less interested in the social aspect of joining ADHA and instead want more mentoring and career advisement. Dental hygienist members have shared that they don’t always feel included. So ADHA is changing the way our leadership conducts itself and our business so we are more inclusionary. What we’ve found from dentists is that they definitely recognize the significant contribution dental hygienists bring to their practices. They’re interested in how the profession can enable them to be more efficient and to focus on the care they are providing. ADHA is taking big steps to develop a working partnership with dentistry.

BATTRELL: The staff is tremendously proud of the board for taking such bold, new directions. The board basically eliminated the three major goals the association has had for a number of years and established five new ones. Marge (Green) has taken great strides in her constituent and school visits to share this message and to ask what’s working, what’s not, and how the organization can improve. My job in the central office is to ensure our staff provides excellent customer service. We’ve been working very hard internally to improve this all the way from the person answering the telephone to my office. ADHA is undergoing a complete turn-around.

Q: Please discuss the other four goals.

GREEN: Another goal is for ADHA to be the resource for dental hygiene—both for dental hygienists and the community at large. This is happening. On a regular basis, we are receiving phone calls from the federal government to give testimony on oral health topics and join working groups focused on the oral health crisis in the United States. ADHA is being called on by policy makers to be the voice of the profession. Another key goal is that we will be a datadriven, fiscally-sound, effectively governed organization. We now research all ideas, such as with the feasibility studies and the branding campaign. Then based on the compiled data, we make decisions. And only then do we make the investment not only to launch a program, but to maintain a program, such as the branding campaign, which is leading us into a full scale public relations campaign that our house of delegates has been proposing for the past 4 years. The fourth goal is that dental hygiene profession will advance through effective advocacy by ADHA; we’re seeing this with the advanced dental hygiene practitioner. We have a task force that’s developing standards of practice that will assist clinicians in their daily lives. We expect this to be completed just in time for our annual session in 2007. The final goal is that ADHA and its members will work in partnership with dentists to advance the oral health of patients. We’re working on developing new collaborative relationships with the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Periodontology, among other organizations.

BATTRELL: ADHA is extending an olive branch. We have to work together in order to best serve our patients. Are we always going to agree? Certainly not, but if we have an ultimate goal that we’re working collaboratively and not against one another, we all win. So my job on the staff side is to make sure that ADHA has regular communication with the other oral health-related organizations. ADHA is creating a new web of outreach that we haven’t seen before, which we’re very proud of.

Stay tuned in 2007 as Dimensions brings you more from ADHA leadership. Have a comment? Log on and post your comments in the ADHA forum under Career.

References

  1. United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dental Hygienists. Available at: www.bls.gov/oco/content/ocos097.stm#outlook. Accessed November 27, 2006.
  2. United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dental Assistants. Available at: www.bls.gov/oco/content/ocos163.stm. Accessed November 27, 2006.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. December 2006;4(12): 10-11.

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