The landscape of dental hygiene is changing. Roles and practice settings are expanding to include clinical services, health education, health promotion strategies, and interprofessional collaboration to expand access to care for underserved individuals and groups. Dental hygiene education has continued its focus on preventive oral healthcare services for patients using the process of dental hygiene care. Bowen and Pieren provide an entire teaching-learning package using Darby and Walsh’s Dental Hygiene: Theory and Practice, 5th Edition coupled with online resources to broaden the reader’s educational experience and escalate the vision of dental hygiene.
Accreditation standards require competency in many of the roles mentioned above for dental hygienists; therefore, competency-based education and assessment are required components. Curricula remain focused on hours spent in clinic, and students often envision themselves in one role: practicing clinically in a dental office when they graduate. In addition to developing clinical competency, healthcare education requires critical thinking capabilities, the ability to find and assess evidence related to clinical questions and health education, and an awareness of ethical and legal issues related to the entire scope of practice. The challenge is seeing dental hygienists inside and outside the dental office and integrating forward thinking throughout the curriculum.
So, how do dental hygienists, students, and educators do this? How can this teaching-learning package help in achieving these goals? Here are a few tips and strategies to try:
- Use the learning environment to talk about all the roles dental hygienists assume and can fulfill.
- Continue to use the process of care and clinical skills as the foundation while selecting resources that include this global view of dental hygiene.
- Incorporate resources in teaching and learning that include critical thinking exercises and legal/ethical considerations to promote higher levels of learning and application of information and roles outside of traditional settings.
- Plan and implement experiences with diverse community groups, medically complex patients, and delivery of dental hygiene services outside of traditional settings. Use service learning to experience different roles and opportunities.
- Use resources that have a forward-thinking view of the profession of dental hygiene, including comprehensive, patient-centered care using the process of dental hygiene care, interprofessional collaboration between the dental hygienist and other healthcare providers, and scenarios where dental hygienists promote health and provide access to care for many different populations.
- Think outside the state. State practice acts might be barriers to access to care, direct care, and utilization of dental hygiene services. Openly talk about these barriers and mechanisms provided by other states to improve interprofessional collaboration, access to care, health promotion, and utilization of dental hygiene services and roles.
- Participate in activities that develop interprofessional collaboration skills. Collaborate now with pediatricians, nutrition specialists, physical or occupational therapists, nurses, speech therapists, and physician assistants to help patients within the context of primary care or medical care.
Education is the foundation upon which we build our future.
The world is changing, and we need to prepare students to step up to these challenges to continue moving dental hygiene forward.