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

NYU Educator Is Dedicated to Opening Doors for Dental Hygienists

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, MEd, shares her own experience in dental hygiene and why creating more educational options for clinicians is key to furthering the profession.

A clinical associate professor and chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting at New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where she participates in didactic and clinical dental hygiene education, Dianne L. Sefo, MEd, RDH, has also held positions at various private practices in New York State and Southern California. An inducted member of NYU College of Dentistry Academy of Distinguished Educators and Kappa Delta Pi, an International Honor Society in Education, Sefo is also a member and past president of Sigma Phi Alpha–Psi Chapter, the National Dental Hygiene Honor Society.

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, MEd

Her research concentrations have been in oral-systemic health and clinical dental education. Sefo is a co-inventor of a haptic-based learning tool for pre-clinical dental and dental hygiene education. In addition to her teaching, research, and clinical activities, she is a reviewer and a published author of peer-reviewed journals, continuing education courses, book chapters, and other publications pertaining to dental and dental hygiene education and the advancement of the standard of care in evidence-based dental hygiene therapy.

Sefo was instrumental in the introduction of a new program at NYU: the new Dental Science Concentration for NYU’s Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Program. Designed to prepare students for a career in dental hygiene, the program also provides a pathway for those interested in applying to dental school or other graduate health programs.

Sunstar Ebrief spoke with Sefo about the new program and her own path to becoming a dental hygienist.

What makes the new Dental Science Concentration for NYU’s Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Program unique?

The 128-credit curriculum includes all the prerequisite courses needed to apply to dental school, medical school, and other health degree programs. These science and math courses are taken in the first 2 years of the curriculum, which allows students to take entrance exams, such as the Dental Admission Test (DAT), as early as possible. Dental hygiene students at NYU Dentistry learn in a real-world clinical environment in the country’s largest dental school. Being the only dental hygiene program in a dental school in New York State, students not only collaborate with dental hygiene faculty, but also dental faculty, dental students, and clinic staff in caring for New York City’s diverse population. Students are also able to expand their knowledge and gain exposure to a range of dental specialties by rotating through a variety of specialty clinics, such as Periodontics, Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, and the Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities to name a few.

What impact do you believe it will have on NYU’s dental hygiene students who choose it?

This new degree concentration provides students with experience, knowledge, and preparation that no other program does. Working alongside other oral health professionals while in this program, students gain insight to make informed decisions about their post-baccalaureate professional goals. They will be able to practice patient care in a collaborative team environment. Exposure to other healthcare members at NYU Dentistry will show students the different fields in dentistry to help them determine which area they are most interested in. In addition, students graduate with practical skills to become a “practice-ready” dental hygienist. A Bachelor of Science degree expands employment opportunities beyond private practice, including teaching, research, public health, and the corporate sector. The Dental Science Concentration increases the graduates’ opportunities to either practice as dental hygienists or pursue further education without needing additional coursework nor prolonging their completion of undergraduate studies.

Describe your path to becoming a dental hygienist.

I was always interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. Both my parents are nurses and have been amazing role models for me. They were also my biggest influencers to consider dentistry. My initial goal was dental and my father suggested dental hygiene for my undergraduate degree to gain more experience and insight of dentistry in general. Not only was this going to provide me with firsthand experience in dentistry, but it was also going to allow me to gain practical skills to be a part of the healthcare team immediately upon graduation from an undergraduate program. I was fascinated by and grew a passion for the preventive aspect of dentistry that dental hygiene focuses on. If I stayed on course with only pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology to apply to dental school, I would have never known what an amazing field dental hygiene would be for me. This is why the new Dental Science Concentration for NYU’s Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene Program is so important to me personally. Although dental hygiene may not be the field these graduates end up staying in, it will give them a better understanding of the preventive aspect of dentistry and the crucial role dental hygienists play in oral healthcare.

What do you believe are the most important issues facing dental hygiene as a profession?

So many important issues impacting dental hygiene today, many that relate to increasing access to oral care. One issue is the controversies related to dental therapy. Dental therapists provide low-cost preventive and restorative care to populations that face major barriers to dental care. More states are authorizing dental therapists, however, critics question if dental therapy is the answer to increasing care for underserved populations. There are also different perspectives on the education dental therapists should be required to achieve. One main question is if the dental therapist should be a dental hygienist or non-dental hygiene based.

Another issue is licensure compacts. These would create standardized credentials among participating state boards, reducing barriers to license portability. However, controversy exists as there are two proposed dental and dental hygiene licensure compacts (American Association of Dental Boards Dental and Dental Hygiene Compact and the Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact. Each has different requirements and language used that gives potential for ambiguity. As more states participate, amendments to improve patient safety concerns will be more challenging.

Teledentistry is another issue related to increasing access to oral care that dental hygiene is facing. It enables oral health providers to meet the needs of patient populations where physical, economical, or geographical barriers prevent in-office visits for diagnostic, preventive, and other services. As with all aspects of the practice of dentistry, access to care using teledentistry is multifactorial and regulations differ from state to state. With the evolving technology needed to implement teledentistry, there is also a need to stay current with the requirements to maintain the privacy and security of patient health information in a manner consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and privacy and security rules.

Call to action! Overall, we need a stronger dental hygiene voice to help drive the direction of laws and regulations pertaining to our profession. We need equal representation to advocate for the advancement of dental hygiene at the state and federal level. Our involvement will support an increase to the access of oral healthcare while maintaining the safety of the public we serve.

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