RDH Healthcare Hygienist

What is a Healthcare Hygienist?

Dec 01, 2019

A Healthcare Hygienist is a Registered Dental Hygienist who has a mindset of systemic wellness over dental health alone. They are "whole-istic" practitioners with additional training who are instrumental in oral health protocols being formally integrated into their local medical systems. Some stay in clinical dentistry and set up referral systems with their local medical providers bidirectionally, some hold integrated positions within a healthcare system, and others are initiating innovation as consultants, while healthcare systems across our nation add oral health integration to their strategic plans, and find that none of their existing staff are equipped to develop or run the programs.

National Network of Healthcare Hygienists (NNHH) exists to support their education and integration. NNHH was established to help systems outsource their education and get the mentorship they need. The founders of NNHH know our nation’s oral-systemic health is suffering due to the current separation of dentistry and medicine, and felt called to assist in a big, systemic way.

By integrating oral health programs into healthcare systems, and utilizing RDHs to create and oversee the systems and processes, organizations will finally be able to bridge the medical/dental divide that has needlessly ensued for a century. Current research proves without a doubt that a patient cannot be healthy unless their mouth is healthy, yet medical systems everywhere are not set up to address the gap that exists.

Dental hygienists are passionate, intelligent, licensed healthcare providers who are underutilized by healthcare systems. The medical organizations that do employ them (even for a short period of time as part of an internship or pilot program) end up realizing how valuable they are, and often manage to create a permanent position for them, finally able to offer true patient-centered care.


Medical providers are always grateful to have an RDH on the team, as they are uncomfortable looking in a patient's mouth for signs of disease, and do not have time to educate or track a dental referral. Hygienists do it all day long, and are good at it. They know exactly what to look for, and what to do when they see signs of disease. They are excellent educators, able to explain how periodontal disease and untreated decay is contributing to a patient's other disease states. Additionally, they are experts in dental terminology, able to speak directly to the need at hand when referring a patient to a dental home.

"The benefits of having an RDH and Oral Systemic Educator at our facility are vast. However, the most important thing would be the knowledge and expertise this position brings to the care team. Medical providers receive very limited training on oral health. Having a registered dental hygienist on the team helps address significant gaps in care that we previously had. This position enables us to provide "whole patient" centered care." 

Victoria Fusilier Community Health Centers of Lane County

Dental Hygienists are licensed by their state and required to participate in continuing education just like any healthcare professional. Most have a bachelor degree or higher. They enjoy educating their patients, communities, and other medical professionals on the oral-systemic link, and always find medical providers prefer to have them educate their patients versus adding one more thing to their already packed schedules.

A Healthcare Hygienist's truest desire is to help their patients PREVENT disease through education and empowerment. They educate, coordinate, prevent, and refer. RDHs are the 'Primary Care Providers' of dentistry, which means they can help healthcare systems save money and improve outcomes. Many Healthcare Hygienists are in hybrid roles; working as an integrated dental hygienist, oral health coordinator, and/or member of multiple collaborative care teams. They enjoy being part clinical and part administrative. They are natural leaders.

The purpose of NNHH is not to separate RDHs from dentistry, but to improve health equity by screening and educating people who have undiagnosed and/or untreated oral disease at their medical appointments, then refer them for appropriate levels of dental care, either within the healthcare system, or outside of it. By building relationships with multidisciplinary providers, Healthcare Hygienists strengthen new patient referrals bidirectionally. 

Emphasis is on oral-systemic disease prevention, education, and referrals, but Healthcare Hygienists in some states will also be able to perform clinical treatment on site within a healthcare system as well.

Healthcare Hygienists can, and DO save lives!

Learn more about NNHH membership and certificate programs HERE

Are you an RDH interested in dental/medical integration and collaboration? Distinguish yourself as a specialist in your field while earning AGD/PACE CE. All of our programs are unbiased and evidence-based to focus solely on high-quality continuing education you can use immediately in a clinical, non-clinical or hybrid role.