Natalie Muccioli Emery, RDH BHA
For many years the dental hygienist fit an archetypal profile, female, auxiliary and predominately employed in a private dental practice setting. Over the past 25 years that archetype is slowly and rightfully fading from conventional thinking. From some, including myself would prefer to see that archetype shattered. Now more than ever as the gap widens between rich and poor, we need dental hygienists stepping outside of conventional roles such as private dental practice and applying their skill set to areas where their voice can effect change. These areas include those where the decisions are made such as government and community health settings. There is simply too much disparity in Canada in regard to access to oral health care.
The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (2014) outlined the following major issues in relation to oral health and how it is accessed in Canada:
• 6 million Canadians avoid visiting the dentist every year because of lack of finances
• The pain, discomfort and disability caused by poor oral health in low-income and even middle-income brackets has resulted in a measurable loss of opportunity
• The bulk of dental care is provided in the private sector, with only about 6 percent expenditure on dental care in the public sector
• Although private sector dentistry provides quality oral health care for the majority of people living in Canada, it is simply inaccessible to vulnerable populations for a myriad of reasons
This leaves us with a certain public health crisis and the majority of the skilled oral health care professionals who would be instrumental in helping to address these issues are behind closed doors in private dental practice settings. You simply cannot solve a public health crisis from a private dental clinic.
Where does that leave us? As an educator in a dental hygiene program I ask myself and my students every day how we can mobilize the workforce of oral health care professionals to campaign for change, how can new graduates be motivated to explore roles beyond traditional clinician in the industry? I believe the answer is two-tier. Firstly, dental hygienists need to be moved to action by the grim statistics surrounding access to oral health care in Canada. Secondly, opportunities must exist for dental hygienists to utilize their skill set and truly act as agents of change. It is time to put down the scaler and pick up the megaphone.
What do you think?
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, 2014. Improving access to oral health care for vulnerable people living in Canada.