Is dental hygiene a real profession?


Below are some of the primary characteristics of what defines a profession (as opposed to just a vocation, career or job).  Do dental hygienists fit the definition?

1. Obtaining specialized knowledge (usually through a college or university program)

2. Continuous education for life

3. Member of a professional body

4. High level of trust from the public

5. A special dedication to serving the public

6. Guided by a code of ethics

7. Engaged in scientific research

8. Self regulated

9. Autonomous

Currently, we are not self regulated.  We are, for the most part, regulated by dentists.   We are, except for a few minor examples, not autonomous.  We essentially need the permission from dentists to do what we do.  To be blunt, it’s really hard for me to feel like a true professional when another profession is controlling me like a parent.  The way I see it, we have three choices.  One, work collectively to change the law.  Two, move on to another profession or industry where we can be truly independent.  Three, accept our current status and just keep on working.  I prefer option one, but until that happens, I’ll just wait for my mom or dad to diagnose gingivitis for me so I can continue with my work.

Mark Frias, RDH

That's me in hygiene school during table clinics.

That’s me in hygiene school during table clinics.

6 thoughts on “Is dental hygiene a real profession?

  1. Preach! I’m in Tennessee and we have a handful (as a comparison) of progressive souls working towards said goals. However, the majority do not participate in the action. No one is sure of their stance, whether it is contentment of just ignorance on how to seek action. It’s very frustrating for those of us, literally, fighting not just autonomy, but acknowledgement of a profession rather than just a skill set.

  2. I totally agree Mark! It’s time for a change in our profession. I think there would be a much higher level of job satisfaction if we had more independence.

  3. A super piece, Mark, that provides lots of food for thought. Dental hygienists everywhere should be self-regulating. There is a conflict of interest when one profession regulates another.
    In Ontario we have been self-regulated since 1994.

  4. An important aspect of self-regulation is regulation of our education. Dental Hygiene education is controlled by the ADA – through accreditation. Within the accreditation standards is the provision that entry to practice must be at the associate degree level. So, no matter how much new curriculum is added, or how many credit hours are earned, entry to practice must remain at an associate’s degree level. Most associate degree dental hygiene programs are equivalent to a BS degree, it just isn’t granted, because the ADA doesn’t want hygienists to have a BS degree. This is educational malpractice. Other true professions control their education, accreditation and entry to practice level. Not dental hygiene. Until a dental hygiene run organization controls our education and entry to practice level, we are not a true profession, we are simply an auxiliary to the dentist, pretending to be a profession.

  5. One more comment regarding #7 – engaged in scientific research – a true profession has a unique body of research knowledge related to who they are and what they do. Can anyone direct me to research that proves dental hygiene care, provided by dental hygienists is effective for preventing and treating dental disease? I can’t find it.

    A Cochrane Collaboration review of the benefits of routine scale and polish concluded: “There is insufficient evidence to determine the effects of routine scale and polish treatments. High quality trials conducted in general dental practice settings with sufficiently long follow-up periods (five years or more) are required to address the objectives of this review.”

  6. Right on Mark and Trisha!

    Here’s another concept that we have to address. Mark, you mentioned in your original post about how the doctor must tell you the person has gingivitis in order for you to treat it. We have no way to make that diagnosis other than the educated eye.
    Then with respect to caries or dental decay, we don’t need a dentist to say there is a hole in a tooth, we have them there to say WHY the hole is there. It’s rarely a true caries infection. The dentist is there to say it’s a vitamin D deficiency, it’s a bacterial infection, it’s poor nutrition, it’s a low labial frenum, or whatever. You cannot make any of those determinations with a probe. They’re falling short on their end and we just take it. It’s nearly 2020 for crying out loud!

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