The future of dental hygiene

September 16, 2019

What should we expect-and hope for-for the dental hygiene profession down the road?

As a dental-hygiene student, we spend countless hours curled up with our Darby and Wilkins textbooks. We learn about the humble beginnings of Irene Newman and we honor the leadership within our association. 

We look to icons in dental hygiene to help us recognize where we were, where we are and, specifically, where we are going. These icons give us an understanding about the ways in which dental hygiene has evolved, and they help us remain tethered to our roots.

I, for one, have a different idea about this. 

I believe that our industry is evolving in a huge and spectacular way. As research continues to validate the intricate work we do, as technology expands within our industry and as the community demands for our work increases, we are stepping into a greater call to action. I believe our future is no longer behind us; rather, it is in front of us.

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As such, I have had the esteemed pleasure to know and befriend, in my opinion, the future of dental hygiene: Dental hygienists who are in the field, publishing the research, developing the content, sharing their ideas and marching to the high-pitched tune of their own Cavitron, so to speak. 

These professionals have beautiful minds; minds that are paving the way for our industry and as such, I find it only fitting to honor the work they are doing.

I am proud, honored and humbled to have compiled honest thoughts from some of the brightest young minds in dental hygiene as they answer the question,“Where do you see the future of dental hygiene heading?”

I hope you enjoy their words as much as I did in reading them. Cheers!

 

Continue to the next page to hear what professionals had to say.

 

Ryan Rutar, clinical hygienist and practice hygiene manager

Dental hygiene has always been a very grass-roots profession. With that being said, we all know that the profession is going to grow independently as the demands for care of the elderly increases. This could be anywhere from a dental therapist to general supervision to allow hygienists more access to different areas in need.

As time marches on, we learn more about how the mouth is connected to the rest of the body. This will help create change to incorporate the mouth as part of the body as a whole. Hygienists will be flowing out of the dental office and into other health institutes where they will lead the charge towards prevention.

In my area of change, I hope to create a position in dental offices that will be as common as an office manager. This position is the hygiene manager. I understand that not all hygienists like to deal with the business side of the working realm, but dentists are getting more stressed with student loan debt and trying to stay afloat. Anyone of us who have had a leadership position know it’s always nice to have help. Dentists need this help too! There is a huge need for hygienists to step up in this area. Hygienists have an opportunity to run their share of the business. There is a lot more that goes into hygiene than most dentists know. Even if the dentists do know, they don’t have the time to comb through, revise and deal with all the work that hygiene entails.

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It also helps create a lateral form of management where the dentist, office manager and hygiene manager can all come together to create their ideal practice. Hygienists know their role and what they do perfectly. Sometimes, they just don’t have the tools, or are scared of what this position will entail-or even where to start. This is where I come in to empower those who want to step up and help their dental practice succeed by making hygiene excel. It will also excite hygienists to be able to try new products and really excel in the full scope of their practice when they help to run prevention.

Our profession is changing for the better. We have a lot of areas that will cause us to move outside of our comfort zone. However, this will also allow us to grow as a profession. This growth will only create a better profession that is more adaptable to serve the population. I’m excited to be a part of this profession and only look forward to the changes that will occur in the future.

Biography:

Ryan is a full-time clinical hygienist and hygiene manager at Morning Glory Dental in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is also the cofounder and president of Pearly White Prevention, LLC dental hygiene coaching and consulting. He is about helping hygienists feel empowered to understand the business side of dental hygiene and how they can contribute to the practice. He helps build hygiene managers in the practice and hopes one day for this to be a common practice in dental offices. You can contact Ryan at www.pearlywhiteprevention.com

 

Continue to the next page to hear from the next professional.

 

Jasmin Haley, RDH, MSDH, CDA, CEO of Beyond the Prophy®

At the ADHA conference in 2013, I attended the centennial celebration of dental hygiene in Boston, Massachusetts. I was left with so much hope and confidence for the future of our profession. It was my first national dental-hygiene conference where I met an incredible network of leaders, clinicians and movers and shakers in our industry.

To consider how far we have come in the 100+ years of dental-hygiene practice, I was excited for what the future held. As I now look back on that time, I realize how little I understood about the pressing need for change in our industry. The hygiene landscape is not what our leaders saw 50 years ago or 25 years ago-or even five years ago. It is dramatically evolving because of many professionals who are no longer waiting for change to occur. They are courageous, brilliant, resourceful and committed to excellence by any means necessary.

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Today, we have professionals who are political crusaders who defend our autonomy, toe-to-toe with some of the most aggressive organizations fighting to minimize our impact. We have clinicians creating new clinical roles for hygienists and developing custom certification programs to help other hygienists blaze a new trail. We have educators who are dedicated in shaping the educational landscape and working hard to maintain the standards of excellence for the dental-hygiene curriculum.

Lastly, we have hygienists courageous enough to create new pathways for expansion by means of the entrepreneurial spirit. This gives me hope for our profession. There are professionals who realize that we are "more than just a dental hygienist," and they refuse to be silenced. It is these professionals that are steadily growing and seeking to provide the best for the communities we serve.

With all of the advancements we have continued to make, I personally feel that the number of professionals we have willing to take the lead in this evolution are simply not enough. We need more dental hygienists like you that are willing to join in this journey of reshaping our future-and it all starts with leadership.

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What I hope for in the future is that in our clinical training as budding future professionals we are immersed in leadership training weaved throughout the curriculum. These future programs will include specific training to help students discover their personal strengths; gain opportunities to maximize their potential and growth; develop emotional intelligence and mindfulness to overcome any challenges presented; and lastly, create fierce believers in the importance of self-care. These are the skills possessed by the high-performing leaders of the world-the movers and shakers.

Just imagine, if we are all equipped with these skills, the world of dental hygiene being a self-governed profession will be here sooner than we think! Until then, I continue to make my small dent in the future of our profession and I hope you will join in too!

Biography:

Jasmin Haley, RDH, MSDH, CDA is the CEO of Beyond the Prophy®. When she is not directly helping to impact the lives of dental professionals with coaching, she can be found on the stage doing what she loves best-speaking from the heart. She shares her personal experiences of being overwhelmed, fear and self-doubt to help professionals rediscover their greatness. She is an expert on HIV/AIDS, an advocate for the opioid epidemic, and crusader for cultural sensitivity. Jasmin is the 2018 recipient of the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction. You can reach her at www.jasminhaley.com. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook and follow her for career strategy in dentistry on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Continue to the next page to hear from the next professional.

 

Spring Hatfield, RDH

Dental hygienists have come a long way through the years and new and exciting things are on the horizon. Not only have dental hygienist advanced from "just cleaning teeth" to being preventive-care specialists, we now screen for multiple systemic diseases. This has been a huge step in bridging the gap between medicine and dentistry. 

I am personally thrilled at the prospect of providing dental care to the underserved population in rural areas through the adaptation of dental therapists. Most dental hygienists are aware of the lack of care to certain populations and it is quite disheartening. Dental therapists have been utilized in many countries, and it has been very successful. From the moment I chose dentistry as a career, the idea of dental therapists has intrigued me. The understanding of the possibilities dental therapists could offer to rural areas has been recognized by several states in the U.S. I foresee more states in the U.S. approving and utilizing licenses for dental therapists.

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When I first started practicing dental hygiene the line between dentistry and medicine was very distinct. I’ve marveled in watching that line become blurred over time. I look forward to the day dental professionals no longer remember that line. I hope to see it become a part of dental history. In the future I expect to see dental therapists widely accepted throughout the U.S. and further integration between dentistry and medicine. The future of dental hygiene is bright, I look forward to building bridges and breaking through the glass ceilings.

Biography:

Spring Hayes Hatfield, RDH, is a graduate of Florida State College at Jacksonville. She practices clinically in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She is Dental Hygiene Board Certified in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. She is the blog manager and co-founder of Dental Masterminds, LLC. Her passions include helping her patients better understand the oral-systemic disease connection and empowering other dental professionals in their quest to provide exceptional dental care. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and two children and spending time with her animals at her useless animal farm. She can be reached via email at SpringHatfieldRDH@gmail.com, on Facebook and on Instagram.

 

Continue to the next page to hear from the next professional.

 

Emily Boge

Where do I see dental hygiene in the next 20 to 50 years? Well, 20 years ago I was brand new to the dental industry. Quite frankly, I cannot believe how far we have come in that seemingly short time span. If I would have written the answer to this question when I started college, I am certain my reality now would not match what I had projected back then, but I will do my best to make an educated prediction of the future.

The dental hygiene brand will likely continue to evolve over the course of the next half-century, as change in all things is inevitable. We currently see the demand for care in the public increasing, right along with the amount of practicing dental professionals retiring. With the current numbers of graduating dental professionals holding constant, but fewer wanting to work outside metropolitan areas, I see the clinical roles of the dental hygienist morphing into a more advanced level of care that pushes the boundaries of our education and scope of practice.  

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Emerging science is showing us the monetary value of prevention in many facets of healthcare.  The body of new research on oral-systemic disease connections grows weekly. The aging U.S. population factors into this equation, as the population will likely continue to seek prevention as the answer to keeping our bodies functioning later into our adult years. I know I have begun taking better care of myself, in the hopes (or fear) that I might reach age 100 in this life. I want these teeth to stick around with me that long, but if they choose not to do so I want options for their replacement. I want dental professionals who know about those options, care for those options after they are placed and who can make those options affordable to me and my family. 

Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I see a time in this country where preventive care will replace emergency care as a standard of practice. I see a time that patients will understand the connection between bacteria that is allowed to grow uncontrollably, or bad life choices, or poor financial prioritization, and the outcome on their overall health, and will seek care before it becomes an emergency room visit.

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My public administration degree side of my brain also has hope in the fact that legislators will begin to see these patterns and will allow the dental hygienist to practice in all health settings, in every state, to the greatest level of their education competencies. My hope for our industry is for the general public to not only know the difference between a dental hygienist and others within the dental professions, but fully understand the level of education we have upon graduation from an accredited dental hygiene program.

The future is bright for dental hygiene, but only if we advocate for our profession.  Right now, we know what we know, and so do a few others... but what would the future look like if everyone knew?”

Biography:

Wife, mother, farmer, student, college administrator, educator, inventor, public-health advocate, business woman, researcher, writer, speaker-yet always a dental hygienist-Emily has worn many hats over the course of her 20 years in the dental industry. She takes pride in utilizing her inquisitive mind and honest attitude to lead faculty at her college, influence manufacturers to listen to dental professionals in product innovation, and transform students into entry-level professionals, promoting the use of inner accountability, tenacity, and empowerment. Connect with Emily on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.

 

Continue to the next page to hear from the next professional.

 

Irene Iancu, RDH, founder and owner of Toothlife Studio

I proudly share my name with a dental hygiene legend: Irene Newman, the first trained dental hygienist out of the Alfred C. Fones School of Dental Hygiene in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

When you hear that was in 1914 it sounds like such a long time ago, but in reality, 105 years wasn’t that long ago.

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1965 showed more promise for our profession as Jack Orio graduated from the University of New Mexico and became the first male dental hygienist. That year, American Dental Association bylaws were amended to allow equality for male hygienists.

Fast forward to 1985, the year I was born: National Dental Hygiene Week celebrated its inaugural event.

Today in 2019, dental hygienists are practice owners setting up their own clinics, administering local anesthetic and performing restorative procedures, among many other fantastic successes.

I am certain that our profession will continue to thrive, thanks to the trailblazers before us and those among us, and dental hygiene as a profession will continue to climb to amazing heights, which will serve the public on a greater systemic level. 

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My Nostradamus predictions for the next 50 years in dental hygiene include (but are not limited to):

  • Dental hygienists will be able to prescribe radiographs.

  • Dental hygienists will be able to make patient-specific blood work requisitions.

  • Dental hygienists will legally diagnose periodontal disease independently.

  • Dental hygienists will be able to specialize in more complex specialties, surgical and non-surgical periodontal therapy.

I gather I’ll be a vibrant 84-year-old woman in 2069, enjoying a glass of perfectly aged 1945 Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti Pino Noir with my friend Katrina as we reminisce about this article. I hope to see the aforementioned prognostications to have become a reality.

Biography:

Irene achieved her B.A. in political science from Florida State University in 2005, when she realized she would be a terrible Lawyer!

Upon graduating with honors from Oxford College in 2007, Irene then followed her curiosity into the various aspects of dental-hygiene practice, working her way through each specialty starting in pedo, perio, ortho and ultimately finding her passion connecting the effects of our systemic health to our oral health.

Today, Irene is a Toronto-based practicing independent dental hygienist and practice owner of Toothlife Studio and founder of Toothlife.

Irene is a clinical and theoretical dental hygiene instructor at Oxford College, quality assurance mentor and peer mentor with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, key opinion leader, international speaker and item writer for the National Dental Hygiene Certification Board, and is enrolled in the Harvard HMX program at Harvard Medical School. You can connect with Irene on social media.

 

Reference: Timeline of Dental Hygiene