Rebecca Schmidt, RDH, BSDH, has been a dental hygienist for 4 years, and has recently earned her Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene from the University of Michigan in Ann Abor. She enjoys reading novels, watching Netflix, walking around the neighborhood, and has a profound love for Harry Potter. Schmidt aspires to travel the world and promote oral health to underserved populations. Follow her on Instagram at: @rebeccaschmidty.
October is the beginning of sweater weather, apple cider, carving pumpkins, and watching scary movies. October is also National Dental Hygiene Month! For the entire month, dental hygienists across the nation are being celebrated for their hard work, knowledge, and compassionate care. I love National Dental Hygiene Month because all of my training, education, money, time, commitment, energy, and daily perseverance revolve around dental hygiene. To have an entire month that appreciates what we do every day—from patient care to infection control to staying updated on new research—is an honor that we should all be proud of.
A TIME TO ADDRESS DENTAL HYGIENE
National Dental Hygiene Month is the perfect time to talk about dental hygiene to patients, friends, family, and kids. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), advocating for dental hygiene includes promoting the advancement of the profession, public oral health, and access to care. I think it’s important as oral health professionals to continue advocating for dental hygiene to enhance the oral health of everybody, not just to our patients while they’re in our chair.
Advocating for dental hygiene can be achieved through a variety of approaches. Social media is a huge influencer nowadays, and you can advocate by posting friendly reminders for your friends and family to see. I find it easy to simply share posts from ADHA or other dental hygiene pages that I follow. These posts typically are simple to read and educational for the general public, making it easier to post for my nondental friends to learn. Another way to advocate is through your daily practice as a dental hygienist. Educating your patients on the importance of dental hygiene and oral health is crucial to our profession. Although the ideal goal is to improve dental hygiene for everybody in the world, it is unrealistic. You can truly make a difference to every patient you treat by expressing that you care about him or her and providing the highest standard of care. By being passionate about your profession, you are advocating.
ACCESS TO CARE
A sticky situation for a large number of people is barriers to care. Lack of finances, dental insurance, and transportation are major blockages preventing people from obtaining the dental care they need. There are programs advocating for these particular instances, such as direct access workforce models. Different states have different models for access to care. For example, Michigan has a PA 161 program that enables dental hygienists to provide prophylaxes to underserved populations. This sort of advocacy allows hygienists to reach out to vulnerable populations, which affects the entire nation.
In my experience, the school programs and offices I’ve worked for have not done anything particularly special for National Dental Hygiene Month. I feel like this might be something that needs to improve in order to motivate hygienists to advocate for the celebration more. Especially now during a pandemic, we are limited in our capabilities to promote dental hygiene through schools, nursing homes, Medicaid offices, etc. If you haven’t noticed, everything is shifting toward online meetings. A good alternative to in-person advocacy could be online advocacy. Creating and sharing videos promoting dental hygiene and oral health to students, the elderly, and other places. Perhaps nurses can display the videos or poster boards for their patients at nursing homes, Medicaid offices, etc. Advocacy turns into interprofessional collaboration at this point.
I celebrate National Dental Hygiene Month by expressing my gratitude for the profession of which I am a part. I remotivate myself to be the best hygienist I can be by providing the highest standard of care through brushing up on current articles from Dimensions of Dental Hygiene or sharing fun facts provided by Dimensions or ADHA on facebook. My hope is that my educational posts can help others learn to better take care of their families at home.
TIME FOR REFLECTION
National Dental Hygiene Month should be a time to reignite that spark in your heart that burns for dental hygiene. It should be a time to celebrate all that we do as dental hygienists, no matter where you are in your career. Most important, it should be a time that allows you to reflect on all that you’ve done in your career and move forward to do even more and spread the word about the importance of dental hygiene to more people. May you all have a wonderfully spooky Halloween, and make sure to floss and brush after that candy corn!