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Continuing Education

As health care professionals, we know that dental hygiene/health care is not a static field. The research is constantly evolving, new treatments, protocols and productsbombard us daily. The number of references on MEDLINE for randomised controlled trials in dentistry is continuing to increase above the 3000 level (Figure 1). The picture for references to systematic reviews on the other hand is relatively static at around 1000 per year (Figure 2).  Bastian et. al. highlight this in a recent paper that 75 trials and 11 systematic reviews are published each day! Back in 2001 there were ”over 700 dental journals available worldwide, about 320 are indexed in MEDLINE” and that number has continued to increase as publications have gone electronic and publishing costs subsequently decreased. That’s a lot of new information to keep up on! (12, 3)

We’ve all become consci0us of the importance of peer reviewed, evidence based research, even if that wasn’t the ‘buzz phrase’ back when we were in school. It’s not the basis of science/medicine/health care, or it should be.  So how do we keep up on all this new ‘stuff’?

Generally, “we don’t know, what we don’t know”. By constantly networking with colleagues/peers, educators, regulators, manufacturers, and marketers we expose ourselves to new ideas, share in the experiences of others, become exposed to new products, entertain new ideas and concepts.

Dental hygiene practice can be very isolating. Sometimes we need to step outside our comfort zone, ask questions of others, question ourselves and what we’re doing. Ours is a very dynamic profession interlaced with medicine and oral-systemic connections. No one expects you to know it all. The expectation is, however, that you are open to new ideas and change, and seeking out ‘a better way’ for both you and your client – perhaps something more effective, more efficient, more cost effective, environmentally friendly, . . . the possibilities are endless.

We you see the opportunities for your yourself, your practice, your client and your profession if you stay home hidden away in your operatory? Probably not. You need to seek out the unknown and the best way is by networking with colleagues – in person, on line, at conferences, study clubs, schools etc.

Your professional bodies (licensing and association) have a number of avenues to facilitate this. CDHA provides online communities, online live and archived continuing education programs, avenues for sharing and chat on twitter and facebook, and of course via this blog as well. CDHA is also hosting YOUR  national conference, Advancing Dental Hygiene Practice, to be held 9-11 June 2011 at the Lord Nelson Hotel, Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is another opportunity to connect with peers, colleagues, educators and administrators in the dental profession and ‘flesh out’ some of what you may be missing. Take the opportunity – for yourself, your practice, your patients and the profession!

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The Benefits of Volunteering

“Volunteering is the practice of people working on behalf of others or a particular cause without payment for their time and services. Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life, but people also volunteer for their own skill development, to meet others, to make contacts for possible employment, to have fun, and a variety of other reasons that could be considered self-serving.

I’ve commented on the benefits of volunteering in a number of my posts. It can benefit us in so many ways – personally, professionally, and socially. It’s a commitment many of us put off for the future. We might not realize that the benefits of volunteering touch our own lives as much as the people we help.

For the past two years I’ve volunteered as a speaker at the Pacific Dental Conference here in Vancouver, my home city as part of the ‘So you think you can speak’ series. This series gives the organizers an opportunity to host a wider array of speakers and topics, in particular new topics and unknown speakers. As an experienced educator, why would I chose to speak for free? It’s an opportunity to network with like minded peers, an incentive to search out information on my chosen topic and dissect it so that I can present an unbiased view and have the ability to answer questions. Yes, it’s something I’ld like to research on my own time, but the commitment and deadline date is often the extra incentive we need to move forward with that one other ‘should’ on our list of things we’ld like to do.

It’s worth mentioning, that both years, as a consequence of speaking for free, I received ‘job’ offers related to my chosen topic. Maybe it was my enthusiasm on the topic, the fact that they knew I was interested or understood the product, or that they didn’t know what they needed until someone else rolled it out in front of them from a different perspective. It’s worked very well for me. I’ve made some great connections.

Remember however, networking is about requesting and sharing information, not a request for employment.  Networking is the research you do with people.  “As you make connections with others, you will increase your market intelligence and uncover opportunities you may never have discovered otherwise.  Every person you meet is a potential lead to new career opportunities and becomes part of your network.” It’s a great way to foster your career strengths, skills and experience.

As an independent practitioner it may be as simple as volunteering to read children’s dental books, one hour a week during Oral Health Month at the public library. As a consequence you help families/young children, increase awareness of you/your practice within the community and build relationships with other community members. At the same time you’re improving your interpersonal communication skills, learning what’s important to these young children and their families through their questions and can better prepare yourself for your next encounter be it in the public or private setting.

Many dental hygiene professionals often think of volunteering in terms of providing ‘free’ services, which is not without it’s benefit either, be it local or abroad. You have an opportunity to hone your skills while help others. There’s the bonus of networking with like mined volunteers and the added benefit of your interactions with the clients – you never know who you will cross paths with and what the added benefit will be.

There are volunteer opportunities in ‘our own back yard’ and around the world, from South America to the Middle East to the South Pacific. Personally I’ve worked with Big Brothers/Sisters, Strathcona Health Society, various health and education boards, dental/hygiene association one day free clinics, trade show events for different organizations. For example, Kindness in Action, an Alberta volunteer group of dental professionals, has missions to South and Central America (countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Peru), and Thailand. The Dental Mission Project based out of Vancouver makes a number of trips a year, some out of country, some to less served areas within Canada. The options are endless, the rewards from each very different. 

Getting in the right frame of mind is essential to making the most of any volunteer opportunity. For most people, the experience of meeting and helping poor children who have rarely or never encountered an oral health professional will far outweigh any difficulties, discomforts, or inconveniences.  The CDHA site is host to a number of articles on dental hygiene volunteers .

Perceived time constraintsare the main hurdle to volunteering for most. Many imagine that becoming a volunteer requires a long-term commitment. Recruiters and organizers understand we lead busy lives. Start by signing up for a ‘one-off’ event – one day free clinic volunteer, helping ‘man’ a booth at a trade show, assisting with a fundraising event, help the girl guides with a badge, read a book at your childs school or library for a dental health month, and then decide how long and how often you can help—from once a month to once a week. When you find the right ‘fit’ you’ll quickly find the time.

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Words of Wisdom

The following is the Commencement Speech by Ann Wright, (Acting) Executive Director of CDHA given Tuesday September 21, 2010, to the Canadian National Institute of Health Dental Hygiene graduation,  in Ottawa.


Canadian National Institute of Health Faculty and administration, friends, family and dental hygiene graduates

It is an honour to be asked to speak at your graduation ceremony.  When I sat down to compose this speech,   I turned to the internet and Google for inspiration.  I keyed  in “commencement speeches”, which brought up a list of ‘tips” and knuckled down to creating this address.  The first tip was “ tell the graduating class how you felt when you graduated”.  Well, that sounded easy enough and I began to write. 

When I graduated from dental hygiene in the 70’s, there was only one dental hygiene school in Ontario.   The dental hygiene school was housed in the faculty of dentistry at the U. of Toronto and we mostly kept out of the way.  Not surprisingly, our graduation was combined with the dentistry graduating class.  There was no class speaker selected from dental hygiene and the dentistry graduate spoke for all of us.  He spoke about the challenges of 4 years of dental school and the excitement surrounding  the opening of his own dental practice.  He had a vision, but as I think back, no one thought to ask us about our vision. 

The second tip on writing a commencement speech was to “talk about why the institution asked you to speak at the graduation” .   Google advises, “Talk about your experiences and the message you might bring to new graduates”.  Well that too seemed pretty straightforward.  After all, I have spent close to 40 years in this profession.  But after a few minutes my mind wandered back to my own years in dental hygiene school.  Profession?  I didn’t think of myself as a professional when I graduated.  I was an auxiliary in the dental office who cleaned the patients’ teeth.  I had a “job” as a dental hygienist.

Thankfully, along the way, dental hygienists with much more foresight were working for me.  In Ontario dental hygienists established our own college, the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario in 1994 and began the task of regulating our own profession.  For the first time dental hygienists paid our dues and liability insurance to our own professional college.   The College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario developed the Dental Hygiene Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.  In partnership with the provincial and national association and educators, authored the dental hygiene process of care

In the 1990’s I decided to return to school to work on a business degree.  I can remember walking into my first class at the University of Ottawa.  We were asked to introduce ourselves and give a brief outline of our background and work experience.  Afterwards, several classmates approached me to inquire “ why was a dental hygienist pursuing an MBA?”  Well, I said, because I have a dream of owning my own dental hygiene practice and I lack the business skills.  At that time of course, an independent dental hygiene practice was almost impossible to open in Ontario due to the restrictive legislation.  But there were concrete examples in British Columbia where two pioneering dental hygienists had opened practices, one a storefront and the other a mobile practice.  These dental hygienists were my role models and I was re-energized.

 In 2007, the government of Ontario passed Bill 171, giving dental hygiene the right to “self-initiate”.  This means that qualifying dental hygienists can treat clients on their own, without the direct supervision of a dentist!  This legislative change may not seem particularly significant to you now, but remember that it took dental hygienists over 30 years of hard work and lobbying to attain this in Ontario.  Many of us thought that we would never see this opportunity in our lifetimes!  To date, over 250 dental hygienists have opened their own practice in Canada.  Don’t be misled with pipe dreams  .  These dental hygiene practices struggle.  They struggle to get financing to build their practice and they struggle to build client awareness.  They report that they spend as much time on marketing and paperwork as they do providing oral hygiene care.  They certainly earn less money than when they worked in a traditional dental practice, with the added bonus of working more hours!  The CDHA surveyed the independent dental hygiene practitioners in 2008.    While independent dental hygienists reported that their income had decreased as compared to working as an employee, not one told us that he/she regretted opening their own practice. 

Dental hygiene has moved forward on educational fronts too.  Dental hygienists can earn a bachelor ‘s degree in dental hygiene in British Columbia and many students entering dental hygiene school already hold a bachelor’s degree in another discipline.   There are over 250 dental hygienists in Canada who hold a masters or doctorate degree and these individuals are the program directors and professors, not only in the dental hygiene schools, but also in the faculties of dentistry.

Dental hygienists hold prominent positions in federal  and provincial health departments and hold administration positions in oral  health programs in public and community health programs.   Dental hygienists work in industry, and many are consultants and researchers who are respected and sought after conference and course leaders.

Key stakeholders look to dental hygiene for support and consultation.  At the national level the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association sits on important committees as a full partner with other health professions.  We speak to the government and to other powerful groups such as First nations.  

Last year, the CDHA submitted a tender for a contract to provide dental hygiene services directly to 17 1st Nation communitieswho lived in the Sioux Lookout Area.  This was the first time the federal government had allowed dental hygienists to bid directly on this contract.    As an aside, the contract had a tight deadline and part of it required including the names and CV’s  of dental hygienists who agreed to work in the program.  Keep in mind that this is not a full-time job.  It entails two weeks on and off work in remote fly-in communities.  We were not sure what kind of response we would receive during this recruitment process.  However, within 48 hours the CDHA had applications from over 200 dental hygienists.  I am convinced that due to the quality of our candidates, the CDHA was selected as one of  two contract recipients.  This year the CDHA successfully bid on another federal contract to develop a program on the Awareness of Elder Abuse.  Once again we were one of a very few professions who were chosen to develop a program.  Due to our unique one-on-one client relationship, the evaluators recognized that dental hygienists are in an optimum position to recognize the signs and symptoms of elder abuse.  This contract is for 2 years and will be launched in 2011.  Stay tuned for more information.

As dental hygiene graduates, you are entering the profession of dental hygiene at an exciting time.  More has changed in dental hygiene over the last five years, than in the last 30.  Very rarely are we referred to as  “Ann”  who does the cleanings.   We have excellent training and skills and have taken our place beside other health professionals as a valued collaborator.    Dental hygiene has ‘grown up”. 

This evening, I challenge you to become our ambassadors of the future and the voice of our profession.  When you return to your home communities, remember to volunteer for health fairs and local activities.   Introduce yourself to provincial and federal politicians and voice your opinions.  This year the CDHA concluded it’s first ever “ dental hygiene heroes program”.   In this program dental hygienists were asked to nominate a fellow member who demonstrated superior qualities and commitment to the profession by enhancing oral health in their community.  We will be announcing the winner at the end of September, but I can tell you that the quality of applicants for this award is impressive.  Dental hygienists are spearheading volunteer efforts to bring oral health services to developing countries and aid to Haiti.  For the last two years, a resourceful dental hygienist in Ontario has led the ‘gift from the heart”  program where independent dental hygiene practices open their doors and provide free products and services each Valentines day. 

The CDHA also understands the challenges that you now face in the workplace.  We know the job market is difficult and that the economics of supply and demand have an impact on dental hygiene salaries and job opportunities.  Do not be hesitant to venture out of the urban areas when you search for positions in dental practices.  My youngest daughter recently graduated in journalism, where the job market is highly competitive.  In fact many graduates have to resort to an unpaid internship while they build their experience.  We were not allowed to ask if she had any interviews and she informed us that she would let us know when she had something to report.  In June she announced that she had found a job… Yellowknife working for the local radio station.  Her professors encouraged her to take the position.  They told her that this was an opportunity to acquire more experience in one year than she would garner in several years working for one of the city newspapers or radio stations.  Now, while I am not suggesting that you all flock to Yellowknife, I challenge you to broaden your job search criteria. Think “outside of the op” .

I hope that one of you will stand in my place many years hence,  telling a graduating class about your  dental hygiene career and how this wonderful profession has impacted your  life.  It certainly has led me to a place I never envisioned. 

Our congratulations to Canadian National Institute of Health Dental Hygiene Graduates and all Hygiene Graduates across Canada – you are our future.

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In search of a hero…

Last year, the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association and Johnson & Johnson Inc., makers of  LISTERINE® Antiseptic Mouthwash, introduced the DENTAL HYGIENIST HERO™ Recognition Program.  The program was created to honour and reward one extraordinary dental hygienist who personified what it is to be a hero in the field of oral health through selfless dedication in advancing and enhancing oral health care within his or her own community.

Heather Cooper was our winner last year and this DENTAL HYGIENIST HERO™ took home $1,500 in prize money.  Heather writes about her experience participating in the first DENTAL HYGIENIST HERO™ Recognition Program on her blog.

The 2010 Dental Hygienist Hero™ Recognition program is now underway and we want to encourage each and every one of you to nominate your hero; someone you feel has championed the cause of oral health in the community … it could be you. Visit for program details and help us find our next hero.

Program deadline is 31 July 2010.

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