WHY: We believe that by encouraging collaboration between hygienists and healthcare professionals we can close the gap between oral health and total health.
HOW: Teaching dental hygiene students to think critically, we will encourage collaboration with other healthcare specialists. We will give them a skillset necessary for intelligent communication: knowledge of common diseases and how they may have a reciprocal effect on oral health, verbal skills to communicate professionally with other members of the healthcare team, and digital skills to enhance communication and sharing of pertinent information.
WHAT: We teach the future oral health care specialists with a focus on total health that will significantly impact the healthcare industry and the people it serves.
The future of dental hygiene is bright- if we see the opportunities in front of us. Several studies are showing links between oral health and systemic health, yet most of the dental hygiene workforce remains in dental offices, separated from the rest of the healthcare system. Periodontal disease is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other inflammatory illnesses. We have known about these links for quite some time, yet the traditional role of hygienists has remained virtually unchanged since the early 20th century.
The western world is getting heavier and sicker. The healthcare system is becoming overwhelmed with costly diseases that are largely preventable. People lingering in hospitals and nursing homes remain largely unaware that their poor oral health could be contributing to their conditions. Doctors, nurses, and caregivers are burdened with the tasks of treating too many patients, with little time to spare. They usually understand the oral-systemic links, but have no training in oral care and oral disease prevention.
Hygienists are knowledgeable professionals, trained in preventive health. In addition to courses related to dentistry, we take courses in Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Nutrition, and Pharmacology. Why don’t we use this knowledge to its full capacity?
My goal as a dental hygiene instructor is to train our future hygienists to think more broadly. They need to be critical thinkers, putting their skills of disease prevention together with their knowledge of health promotion. With our traditional curriculum, this connection isn’t happening. Change needs to occur, and at the rate of disease our country is experiencing, it needs to occur now.
Our school can promote a curriculum that encourages deeper understanding of the material. By using a blended learning model, students can study the foundational knowledge at home while focusing on deeper learning in the classroom.
By participating in group activities and online discussions, they will learn the value of collaboration with others; this will help build the skills of working with other healthcare professionals. The digital skills they will obtain will also prepare them for the paperless offices and electronic claims and communications they will be expected to use.
We can lead the way by preparing our students for opportunities that may seem unimaginable at the moment. Let’s help our students make the connection between oral health and systemic health by showing them the possibilities. The future of dental hygiene is bright- can you see it?
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