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Inside Dental Assisting

Jan/Feb 2014, Volume 11, Issue 1
Published by AEGIS Communications


Dental Hygienists and Assistants Working Together

ADHA encourages a spirit of cooperation for patient care

Kathy Zwieg, LDA, CDA

The message of working together serves as the platform for the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) president. “We are always better together,” says Denise Bowers, RDH, PhD. Her motto references not only dental hygienists, but all members of the dental team. “We need to work together and put the needs of our patients first,” she says.

The ADHA recently celebrated 100 years since Dr. Alfred C. Fones of Bridgeport, Connecticut trained his chairside dental assistant, Irene M. Newman, to become the first dental hygienist. Today, the profession has more than 190,000 dental hygienists in 50 states. This summer’s 2013 ADHA annual session in Boston, MA recognized this centennial anniversary and drew over 3,000 attendees from throughout the country. Bowers says the organization is looking forward to another well-attended meeting when its 2014 annual session convenes in Las Vegas, NV.

In another event in September, the ADHA, the ADHA Institute for Oral Health, and The Santa Fe Group brought together key stakeholders from throughout the nation for a symposium entitled, “Transforming Dental Hygiene Education.” Its purpose was to address the changing needs of dental hygiene and dental hygiene education, as well as envision the future role of the dental hygiene profession and pave the way for a fundamental shift in how dental hygienists will be prepared for an ever-changing healthcare system. The symposium outcomes will be released during the American Dental Education Association’s annual meeting in March 2014.

In regard to addressing the country’s access to oral healthcare issues, Bowers comments that uniformity and consistency in scope of practice on a state level for both assistants and hygienists is a challenge; additionally, no national policy is available for dental assistants. “This lack of uniformity is an issue that impedes practice and ultimately, the care of our patients,” she states.

“Assistants and hygienists need to find new ways to work together,” says Bowers. “We mutually respect each other’s professions and can certainly learn from each other.” She fondly shares a story about how she quickly developed an appreciation for the skills of the dental assistant early in her career when the assistant was ill one day. “The dentist asked me to assist, and I was all thumbs,” she laughs. “He never asked me to assist again.”

Another area where members of the dental team need to collaborate is in new technology implementation. As professor and chair of the dental hygiene program at Rhodes State College in Lima, Ohio, she recently observed an example for how different generations need to work together when the clinic in her program converted to electronic records. Bowers says that the change showed how the younger professionals’ technology skill sets can be a good match for those with other dental life lessons and experience.

When asked what keeps her awake at night, Bowers quickly responds, “Access-to-care issues—all healthcare professionals need to put differences aside and come together. Together we can truly make a difference.”


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