The Dental Hygiene Oath: Are You in Compliance?Sep 15, 2023
As summer ended for me this year, I made one of the biggest decisions I had been faced with so far; to renew my dental hygiene license, or retire it.
I've been fully administrative for the past five years, and in partially clinical hybrid roles prior to that. As the founder of National Network of Healthcare Hygienists (NNHH), my days are filled with website and graphic design, certificate program development and management, and ASTM E2659 accreditation standards. I haven't felt like a hygienist in a long time.
So, as I prepared to let it go, and fully embrace the role of public health program developer, I wanted to read the oath I took at pinning one more time. WOW! I was so surprised by the alignment this simple two sentence prose holds yet today, 75 years after it was first written and then modernized by the ADHA Board of Trustees in 1979. Let's all read it together:
The Dental Hygiene Oath
In my practice as a dental hygienist, I affirm my personal and professional commitment to improve the oral health of the public, to advance the art and science of dental hygiene, and to promote high standards of quality care.
I pledge continually to improve my professional knowledge and skills, to render a full measure of service to each patient entrusted to my care, and to uphold the highest standards of professional competence and personal conduct in the interests of the dental hygiene profession and the public it serves.
Notice that clinical treatment is not mentioned anywhere in the oath, yet over the years we've come to view ourselves as treatment providers and clinicians, over researchers, educators or prevention advocates. Treatment is a higher revenue producer than prevention, so it’s no surprise that our governing bodies have molded us to think of ourselves as treatment providers. It is, however, up to each and every one of us to consult our own hearts and turn our careers into what feels the most aligned to this oath. I don’t see the line “reach production goals” or “complete 14 patients with a hygiene assistant and skip your lunch” anywhere. Do you?
Don’t get me wrong, we NEED skilled clinicians and I used to be one of them, but treatment is not in the best interest of the dental hygiene profession or the public it serves…prevention is.
Let’s take a look at the annual NNHH survey results from 2022 (we polled hygienists in our Facebook group Hygienists in Healthcare along with our NNHH members and students):
- 87% said they experience pain on a weekly basis due to practicing clinical hygiene
- 25% said their pain is moderate to severe and affecting their overall quality of life
- 94.6% said alternative roles outside of clinical hygiene are attractive to them
- 98.9% said medical integration is extremely important to them
- 97.9% said personal development is very important to them (not professional, personal)
A shift is occurring post-pandemic where hygienists are retiring early, changing careers, and looking for non-clinical positions. Dentists and practice owners are nervous as this exodus means it will take higher pay and better benefits to retain talent. When I consult the oath we took when we graduated, it is clear to me that we have gotten off course.
On behalf of the NNHH Board of Directors, I am calling for an update to this oath. In the first sentence, “oral health” should be replaced with “oral-systemic health." If we want to be looked at as important members of interdisciplinary care, we have to start our career with the whole patient in mind from day one, and begin educating patients about the oral-systemic link at the primary care level. Every single collaborative care team in the nation should have at least one RDH on it. For that to occur, we have to shift how we see ourselves and what we believe is possible for us as a profession.
After reading the oath I took in 1997 again, printing it out, and contemplating it for a few days, I renewed my license and will as long as I can continue to comply with the promises I made. My commitment to our profession is different from many, as I am no longer serving patients in a 1:1 clinical capacity, but instead serving the hygienists who are. I’m also serving those who want to spread their wings beyond traditional dental settings, through the membership and certificate programs NNHH offers, and my personal coaching business. We cannot pour from empty cups. I know because I tried for years.
My Career | My Voice | My Choice
How can you best express the oath you took? Print it out, contemplate it, and let me know. I love hearing about all the unique ways hygienists are sharing their expertise and passion with the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jamie Dooley, RDH, BIS
Jamie Dooley is an award-winning program developer, thought leader, and change agent. She worked 15 years full time as a clinical hygienist before securing her Bachelor of Integrative Studies in 2012, with a focus on healthcare & nonprofit management, from Ferris State University. She found she excelled at developing innovative programs and managing complex projects. After spending 6 years in public health launching a dental Medicaid clinic, developing a school-based sealant program that served 12 low-income schools, and piloting oral health integration in a large healthcare system, she started National Network of Healthcare Hygienists in 2018. Her goal is to introduce new programs and systems to the medical model which include registered dental hygienists as important members of interdisciplinary care.
Jamie is also a trusted private master coach and healer who teaches people how to tap into and use the power of their own hearts to move beyond self-sabotage, fear, and imposter syndrome. She founded Expansion Group for Women in 2020 to share the ADOR'EM Model of Expansion Coaching she created with her sister Lisa Freitag; a powerful self-coaching and private coaching tool that causes massive, rapid transformation at the quantum level. She is also a HeartMathTM Certified Professional and a graduate of Joe Dispenza's advanced weeklong meditation workshop.
Connect with her at [email protected]