Dental Hygienist, a Progressive Profession

July 1, 2012 | Dental |

A recent editorial in the globe and mail cited a US study of the top 200 occupations.  The study looked at more than a dozen factors that were categorized when determining job rank, including environment, income, outlook, physical demands and stress.  Dental hygienists ranked 4th behind software engineer, actuary and human resource manager
and one of the strongest predictors noted excellent projections for growth in the profession.

Background

Dental hygienists currently number more than 24,000 in Canada (as per Canadian institute of health Research (Cihi) Canada’s health Care providers 2009 provincial profiles).  A look at 24 occupation’s data (https://secure.cihi.ca/freeproducts/ provprof2009en.pdf)) reveals dental hygienists rank as the 6th largest health profession in Canada.  In most provinces, dental hygienists are self-regulated health professionals with their own colleges, regulations, code of ethics and standards of practice.

While the majority of dental hygienists work in a traditional dental practice, there have been notable changes to the employment landscape.  Dental hygienists are registrars,
professors, researchers and administrators.  They teach in universities and colleges, conducting research and contributing to a growing body of knowledge in the field of oral health.  Dental hygienists hold positions in federal and provincial health departments, as well as positions in public and community health.  In addition to working in public administration, dental hygienists work in the dental industry as account representatives, managers and several have established themselves as practice management consultants
who are highly sought after conference and course leaders.

Another trend is the emergence of dental hygiene practices.  There are currently more than 400 independent dental hygiene practices in Canada.these practices provide oral
health care in traditional office locations or through mobile practices where hygienists travel to those clients who are home-bound or live in institutional settings.  The decision to
start an independent dental hygiene practice is not for the faint-hearted.  Most new business owners report working longer hours – outside of traditional practice hours to attend to all of the issues of running a business.  While initially, they may have given up a dependable salary, these entrepreneurs report the highest levels of personal satisfaction with their career choice.

Dental Hygienists today

What are the major challenges facing dental hygienists in Canada today?

Certainly, as with other occupations, the competition for work in urban areas is strong and newly graduating dental hygienists often accept more than one job in order to fill a work week.  Demand for jobs is less competitive if a dental hygienist is willing to relocate to a smaller or remote community.

Dental hygienists are innovative.  They work with a varied number of health professionals besides dentists, including denturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, nurses, physicians, dieticians and speech therapists and physiotherapists.  Independent practice offers dental hygienists the opportunity to practice according to their own beliefs and interests.  One innovative dental hygienist has established an eco-practice because she wanted to work in an environment that fit her personal values on health and well-being. Her practice philosophy is simple, “what is good for me would also be good for my clients and good for the planet.”   to qualify for an eco-designation, she met the following criteria: a sustainable location, specific waste reductions strategies, pollution prevention and energy and water conservation.

Mobile dental hygiene is another growing segment.  Two dental hygienists in Ontario practice in traditional dental offices during the week and then return home to their rural community on the weekend to operate a mobile dental hygiene practice.  They have learned that it is not just their dental hygiene treatment that makes this service valuable. In many cases, they note that the time they spend with the client may be that client’s only means of social interaction.  Due to this flexibility, they report high satisfaction by “taking our time to allow for conversation and a few good laughs”, as well as,“running the odd errand” and locating other mobile health services that meet the clients’ individual needs.2

Dental hygienists volunteer in Canada and abroad and have been instrumental in initiating projects working with immigrant populations, the elderly and special needs groups.

Student’s Viewpoint

Through dental hygiene education, dental hygienists are exposed to a wealth of opportunities.  One student who visited a long term care setting stated,“it was fantastic to be able to provide care for those individuals who may otherwise not be able to afford regular dental care in private practice.  The clients’ gratitude toward us solidified the idea that a person’s outlook on their oral health really can have an effect on their overall health
and happiness.  Working with these individuals helped me realize that as dental hygienists, we are at the forefront of providing our clients with this positive outlook and overall good feeling.”

Where the profession of dental hygiene is heading?

The dental hygiene profession encourages inter-professional collaboration and oral health promotion.  Hygienists educate their clients in tobacco cessation techniques, on the links between diabetes and oral disease and in the early detection of oral cancers.  A visit to a dental hygiene practice is much more than just a check-up and cleaning!

Conclusion

More has changed in the profession of dental hygiene in the last few years than over the past several decades.  Dental hygienists are no longer the “girl who does the cleanings”. Dental hygienists don’t just have a “job” nor are they called “auxiliaries”.as a profession, dental hygienists contribute to federal health committees, task forces and lobby governments on behalf of the oral health of all Canadians.  However, dental hygienists have not forgotten their “roots” and continue to derive high levels of satisfaction from providing the best oral health care on a one-to-one basis for their clients.  As one dental hygienist said,“every time we leave a smiling client’s house we regain our strong passions for our careers.  We have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and renewed excitement for our profession”.

Bottom Line:This article provides insights into the world and work of the dental hygienist and why their job satisfaction ranking is so high.