Dental hygienists: Engage in a what-if conversation about the profession

The dental hygiene profession could surge forward if we imagined the possibilities

I’m not always a fan of the game, “What if?” But the game seems appropriate for our profession right now. I’m a bit weary of the old complaints over patients who won’t floss, or those who would rather have pink nails than pink gums. That isn’t the “what if” I’m after here. Instead of queries about our patients’ mouths, let’s play the game with the very real threats to our profession.

What if every RDH in every state (or providence) attended a legislative day and brought an example of one way patient health was improved through oral preventive services? Instead of arriving with toothbrushes and floss in hand, we could arrive with glucose monitors, stethoscopes, and sphygmomanometers to show our role in health care and disease prevention. Perhaps each RDH could introduce a patient whose life was saved as the direct result of a hygienist’s intervention.

Our discussions with political leaders might focus on the lifesaving role dental hygienists can provide in pediatric care. Rather than a drawn-out lecture on the benefits of fluoride varnish, a united message could center around the unnecessary deaths during sedation dentistry, attributable to the lack of appropriate preventive care. It is time for those in charge of spending the dollars to learn that RDHs are prevention specialists and not in competition with the dentists to drill and fill.

The starting point for such an important undertaking will be to educate some of our colleagues about these very facts. It is astonishing to me to hear at conventions or CE events how some hygienists view themselves. Many do believe they’re in practice only to remove stain, plaque, and calculus, and to make patients happy. Good Yelp reviews appear to have replaced great preventive care in some instances. If the RDH community as a whole views our career as one of scale and polish, there’s not much hope for the future of our profession. The role of health-care delivery is changing and we’d better be ready to jump on board.