Dental Hygiene Shifts Into High Gear
Expanding the function of dental hygienists is shaping the profession’s future.
Have you ever wondered what Alfred C. Fones, DDS, would think about the dental hygiene profession of today? In 1913, his goal was to establish an oral health care practitioner who focused on maintaining health and preventing oral diseases. Fones knew that focusing on patient education and prophylaxes would ultimately improve health. More than 100 years ago, he promoted this controversial, unfamiliar approach that could have easily been his professional downfall. Yet he proceeded without hesitation because he knew he was on the right path.
Fones’ unflinching strength of purpose serves as a good example for modern dental hygienists. Some say that the dental hygiene profession is at a crossroads—do we stay the course or move ahead in expanding our roles as health care providers? In reality, dental hygiene is not at a crossroads—it’s more seminal than that. We are about to enter a high-speed superhighway or head down a one-way street. And dental hygienists are in the driver’s seat.
This Perspectives on Dental Hygiene supplement outlines ways that dental hygiene is racing toward the future, and covers the topics most essential to this transformation, including: the American Dental Hygienists’ Association’s strategic plan, policy, reimbursement, public health, self-regulation, delivery of care, expanded practice settings, and education. The health care environment is changing rapidly, and dental hygiene is poised to not just have a seat at the table, but to be an integral part of that change. The individuals who have contributed to this supplement know this well—they are living those changes every day. Their insight provides a look at what the future can be if we dare to explore new directions.
In January, the National Governors Association released a report titled, “The Role of Dental Hygienists in Providing Access to Oral Health Care.” Its purpose was to provide guidelines for state governors on how to address existing barriers to oral health care access. The final sentence of the document clearly states the dental hygiene profession’s current challenge and future promise: “As demand for oral health services rises—in part due to changing demographics and expanded access to dental insurance—states can consider doing more to allow dental hygienists to fulfill these needs by freeing them to practice to the full extent of their education and training.”1
Is dental hygiene abandoning its prevention-focused roots in its efforts to expand clinicians’ scope of practice? Absolutely not. The fact that the profession is pursuing expanded roles for dental hygienists does not mean the focus on prevention is minimized. It simply means the profession is responding to the need for additional areas of patient care and the increased demand for oral health care services.
Fones once said, “Every dental hygienist must have her mind open to everything that is progressive.” I have a feeling he would advise us to take the superhighway. It’s going to be an amazing journey.
- National Governors Association. The Role of Dental Hygienists in Providing Access to Oral Health Care. Available at: nga.org/cms/home/nga-center-for-best-practices/center-publications/pagehealth- publications/col2-content/main-content-list/the-role-of-dental-hygienists-in.html. Accessed September 24, 2014.
From Perspectives on Dental Hygiene, a supplement to Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. November 2014;12(11):8–9.