“When we consider what we are about to do in the future, we have to be mindful of this past- a focus on prevention, education, and discernible health outcomes. ” JoAnn Gurenlian contributes the evolution of dental hygiene to its expansive ideology. Becoming a dental hygienists entails skill sets in cleaning teeth with specialized instruments, taking x-rays, documenting medical records, etc. This essay will take you through the establishment of dental hygiene leading into what it has become today. From the realizations of the necessity of oral health, the social aspects involved, and ultimately the struggle to convey its importance.
Since the beginning of time, tooth decay has been an ongoing issue with mankind. Documentation of tooth decay dates back to 5000 B. C. People contributed cavities to “tooth worms” burrowing in the teeth. Archeologists discovered a human jaw with holes drilled in it to possibly drain an abscessed tooth. Some form of the toothbrush dates back to ancient history, but it is not known how prevalent the importance of brushing daily was. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s to early 1900s that the importance of dental hygiene was brought about.
An editorial in the “American Journal of Dental Science,” in 1965, stated that the diet played an integral role in dental hygiene. In 1879, dental hygiene as a role of the dentist was finally mentioned. In 1890, Charles B. Atkinson wrote a paper on “Prophylaxis in the Field of the Dental Surgeon” that’s heralded as grasping the scope of dental hygiene. Atkinon outlines four vital steps in prophylaxis; prevention, diet, hygiene, and regimen. His definition of what it means to have good oral hygiene was one of the first and most accurate synopsis to stress how important prophylaxis is.
The idea of dental hygiene as an extended practice never caught on until 1906. Dr. Alfred Fones of Bridgeport, Conneticut is considered as being the “father of dental hygiene. ” He felt that the idea of oral cleanliness was important but found that the act of cleaning the teeth was too time consuming. There were concerns that training and employment of this profession would be too costly, so Fones had to find a source of labor that would be plausible. Women back then were the solution for cheap labor. He also felt that women were more delicate and would be better working with children and fulfilling tasks that involved cleaning.
Fones began training his assistant Irene Newman in cleaning teeth as well as oral health education. The idea of having someone trained to clean teeth and educate their patients started to spread throughout the United States. In 1913 at the University of Bridgeport, the first education program for dental hygiene was developed. The first class to graduate consisted of ten hygienists who went to schools to talk to students and train them in oral health skills. They performed cleaning on the students and recorded for medical records. Between 1913 and 1946, a total of fourteen schools were developed.
In 1921, Fones published an edition to his textbook for dental hygienists entitled “Mouth Hygiene. ” He states that: “The dental hygienist must regard herself as the channel through which the knowledge of prevention that the dental profession has acquired is to be disseminated. The greatest service she can perform is the slow and painstaking education of the public in mouth hygiene and allied branches of general hygiene. It must always be borne in mind that the aim of the dental hygienist is to secure extreme cleanliness of the mouth in an effort to starve bacteria and render them inert.
Dental hygiene started to be widely recognized by dentists as a necessary profession. However, dental hygiene acts limited the profession to only women. Dentists began to fear that if men were allowed to practice, it would impede on their profession and allow them to branch out independently. Dentists wanted to be assured that dental hygienists didn’t breach their scope of practice. That is why women were the sole employees for this career. Dental hygiene practice in the beginning focused on school children. In the first year, new hygienists performed cleanings on 6,768 students.
Fones noted that less than ten percent of the students were brushing daily and each student had about seven decayed teeth. By 1917, Fones compared students who practiced preventative care to those who did not. An improvement of about sixty seven percent demonstrated a significant decrease in dental caries. Justifying dental hygiene as a necessary part of everyone’s lives. In 1914, Irene Newman became the first president of Connecticut’s State Dental Hygiene Association. She was also the first state licensee for students seeking careers in dental hygiene. A few years later in 1923, the American Dental Hygienists Association was developed.
Its purpose was to develop communication among dental hygienists. By 1927 the group consisted of about 467 members. By the late 1930s, oral health was practiced not only in dental office settings but at home as well. Toothbrushes and floss were becoming affordable for the average American. The first toothbrush, referred to as the “chew stick,” made out of a twig with a frayed end, dates back to ancient civilization. The toothbrush we use today originated in 1938, and is made out of nylon bristles. By the mid-1950s fluoridation in the water system was found to be beneficial for the prevention of tooth decay and is still used today.
The sixties were a decade for advancements in dental hygiene. During that time, the woman’s liberation movement was on the forefront of the National Dental Hygienists Association. Laws were implemented to allow for men to practice dental hygiene. Many techniques must be acquired to perform the task of a dental hygienist. There are numerous hand tools as well as electronic tools being utilized today. When hygiene was first practiced, scalers were made out of many different materials that couldn’t be sterilized as well as today’s instruments. Scalers are a tool used by hygienists to remove plaque from teeth.
Scalers now have ultrasonic and sonic technology which uses vibrations to remove more plaque. Hygienists also apply sealants to teeth to help prevent cavities. Dental hygiene education has grown over the last one hundred years. When Fones first started the program in 1913, there was only one school. Graduates didn’t receive any type of formal degree. Today, there are about 332 programs across the United States. Most graduates receive an associate’s degree which takes two years to complete. As of 1939, a baccalaureate program is offered to students who wish to further their education.
Students are expected to complete certain prerequisites to enter the program and pass the board exams before being licensed. The scope of practice for dental hygienists has become broader as technology advances. Preventative care is no longer the sole purpose of the hygienist, they now play a therapeutic role. Dental hygienists strictly work in a dental office setting under the supervision of a dentist. Hygienists must be able to perform patient screening procedures, take x-rays, remove plaque, apply sealants, educate patients, make impressions of teeth, and record medical history.
Opportunities for the future are expected to arise in the next decade, begging the question of how much education must evolve as well. Traditional dental offices won’t be the only career setting. Hygienists are expected to work in environments such as community health centers, medical facilities, and educational settings. Potentially owning their own practice may be on the horizon. There are boundless opportunities for the future as long as one is willing to put in the work to get there.