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

Raising the Bar

Efforts are underway to add a doctoral level to dental hygiene education.

Dental hygiene has lagged behind nursing, physical therapy, and audiology in developing doctoral education to prepare graduates to engage in discipline-specific research, education, and practice. For example, nursing offers a research-based Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a professional degree, the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP). Dental hygiene doctoral education is the essential next step for progress in the profession. It is needed to prepare dental hygiene scholars to conduct discipline-specific research and theory development to enhance the discipline’s knowledge base, and to educate advanced dental hygiene practitioners, leaders, and educators to function as equal members of interprofessional teams to address current oral health care challenges.1–4


In 2005, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) published “Dental Hygiene: Focus on Advancing the Profession,”5which recommended creating dental hygiene doctoral programs. Subsequently, dental hygiene scholars discussed the need to offer two main doctoral degrees: a research-focused PhD and a practice-based Doctorate of Dental Hygiene Practice (DDHP).2,3 Others also have suggested the creation of two professional dental hygiene doctoral degrees: a doctorate of education (EdD) for those who wish to educate dental hygienists and other health professionals, and a doctorate of clinical science (DrSc) for dental hygienists who want to provide advanced clinical programs in a variety of health-care delivery systems.

In 2010, the International Federation of Dental Hygienists concluded at its house of delegates workshop that dental hygiene doctoral programs should be universal and include the international community.6 Not long after, the American Dental Education Association held two workshops that discussed the need for dental hygiene doctoral education.7 Moreover, in 2013, ADHA sponsored a symposium, “Transforming Dental Hygiene Education: Proud Past, Unlimited Future,” in partnership with the Santa Fe Group. Symposium attendees included internationally renowned scholars and leaders from business and health care professions who are committed to improving oral health, and also brought together dental hygiene educators, researchers, and practitioners, as well as key leaders from other health disciplines, government, philanthropy, and business. They concluded that dental hygiene education needs to change to remain relevant in an evolving health-care delivery environment.8

In 2013, the University of Namseoul in South Korea established the first PhD program in dental hygiene. Two other dental hygiene doctoral programs are currently on the drawing table. One program is at Idaho State University in Pocatello and the other is at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Most recently, at the 2014 ADHA Annual session in Las Vegas, dental hygiene educators presented curricular models for awarding both PhD degrees and professional doctoral degrees in dental hygiene at a special symposium.9 Clearly, the move to create dental hygiene doctoral degree programs is afoot, and the current health care environment is in a good position to lend its support. Such challenges as oral health disparities, the growing number of older adults with complex medical conditions, and the changing needs for different numbers and types of providers support the need for dental hygiene doctoral education.


  1. Gurenlian JR, Spolarich AE. Advancing the profession through doctoral education. J Dent Hyg. 2013;87(Suppl 1):20–22.
  2. Ortega E, Walsh MM. Doctoral dental hygiene education: Insights from a review of nursing literature and program websites. J Dent Hyg. 2014;88:5–12.
  3. Walsh MM, Ortega E. Developing a scholarly identity and building a community of scholars. J Dent Hyg. 2013;87(Suppl 1):23–28.
  4. Boyd LD, Henson HA, Gurenlian JR. Vision for the dental hygiene doctoral curriculum. Access. 2008;22:16–19.
  5. American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Dental Hygiene: Focus on Advancing the Profession. Available at: Accessed September 24, 2014.
  6. Gurenlian JR. Summary of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists house of delegates workshop. Int J Dent Hyg. 2010;8:313–316.
  7. Gurenlian JR. Spolarich AE. Creating an International Online Dental Hygiene Doctoral Program in Dental Hygiene. Presented at: Annual Session of the American Dental Education Association; March 20-21, 2012; Orlando, Florida.
  8. Health Resources Services Administration. Transforming Dental Hygiene Education: Proud Past, Unlimited Future. 2013 ADHA-Santa Fe Group Symposium Proceedings. In press.
  9. Overman P, Kass S, Stolberg R, Shepherd KR, Gurenlian JR, Steinback P. Transforming Dental Hygiene Education: New Curricular Domains and Models. Presented at: Annual Session of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association; June 19, 2014; Las Vegas.

From Perspectives on Dental Hygiene, a supplement to Dimensions of Dental HygieneNovember 2014;12(11):44–45.

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