Digital Citizenship for Dental Hygiene Students

Digital Citizenship is ethical and legal behavior in digital environments…..

Digital citizenship

According to Ribble (2015), there are three categories of digital citizenship that are further broken down into nine elements. Ribble’s categories are: 1. Respect Yourself/ Respect Others, 2. Educate Yourself/ Connect with Others, and 3. Protect Yourself/ Protect Others. The elements that fall into the categories are: 1. Etiquette, Access, and Law; 2. Communication, Literacy, and Commerce; and 3. Rights and Responsibility, Safety (security), and Health and Welfare. Ideally, students would be exposed to an element from each category in rotations, eventually learning all nine elements in order to accomplish an understanding of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

Ribble (2015) explained the nine elements of digital citizenship accordingly:

  • Respect Yourself/ Respect Others:

o   Digital etiquette: when communicating with others, follow proper etiquette

o   Digital access: a goal of citizenship is full access for everyone

o   Digital law: digital citizens need to respect laws and behave ethically

  • Educate Yourself/ Connect with Others:

o   Digital communication: make good decisions about how and what you communicate online

o   Digital literacy: good citizens keep up with changes in technology

o   Digital commerce: be aware of what you are purchasing and the legality of those purchases

  • Protect Yourself/ Protect Others:

o   Digital rights and responsibilities: every digital citizen has rights that need to be respected, but those rights are also balanced with responsibilities

o   Digital security: digital citizens must be proactive in protecting their information

o   Digital health and wellness: digital citizens should take measures to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and psychological issues that can arise from the use of technology

Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship provide a good framework for teaching digital citizenship to students. They are all important, and good digital citizenship encompasses all of them. However, this paper will focus on the element that applies most to students in our dental hygiene program, as it will affect their future success as clinicians.

A dental hygienist is a healthcare professional who is responsible for dental disease prevention, identification of soft and hard tissue oral abnormalities, and the treatment of periodontal diseases. According to Beemsterboer (2017), dental hygienists have a responsibility to uphold several professional traits that society expects from us in order to gain their trust. Beemsterboer’s professional traits for dentals hygienists is as follows:

  • Honesty and integrity: veracity (truth) in communication with patients, and upholding personal and professional integrity
  • Caring and compassion: demonstrating empathy when caring for patients
  • Reliability and responsibility: maintaining sound judgement in all interactions and meeting obligations
  • Maturity and self-analysis: keeping the needs of others as a priority; regularly assessing skills and making efforts to improve them
  • Loyalty: keeping promises, protecting and promoting the interests of the profession, your patients, and your practice
  • Interpersonal communication: developing good relationships with patients and colleagues by listening and exchanging information properly
  • Respect for others: caring for all individuals with the same high level of commitment
  • Respect for self: taking care of your own physical and mental health
Hands on a globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

All of these professional traits need to be exercised if a dental hygienist is to be considered an upstanding member of the profession. Of Ribble’s nine elements, the one that will help hygienists maintain professionalism the most in an online environment is digital communication. Hygienists need to make good decisions about what to post online, such as on social media forums and how they are communicating online. This will affect how patients, colleagues, employers, and society in general will view a hygienist and the dental hygiene profession in general. Most social media platforms include options to post one’s occupation, so when a hygienist exercises bad decisions in regards to digital communication, it reflects on not only that hygienist, but the entire profession.

In term five of our dental hygiene program, students take a course in ethics and law. Although the text book addresses social media issues, it does not address it with the detail needed for a thorough understanding of what it means to communicate responsibly online. As of 2017, 24% of internet users are on 2 social media sites, and there are 2.8 billion active social media users worldwide (Hutchinson, 2017). Working with college students who are likely to be using social media, there is a huge potential audience that could be reading what they are communicating online. As educators, it is our responsibility to inform them about their responsibilities to communicate wisely online.

One of the lessons that could be incorporated into their ethics and law class would be an activity to ensure that the students’ social media profiles appear professional and that their posts are communicating messages that are in line with Beemsterboer’s traits of dental hygiene professionalism. Pictures are a form of non-verbal communication, and they should be tasteful. Students could google themselves (as we did in EDLD 5316), and make sure that everything that comes up in connection with their name is professional. Hygienists should maintain a professional relationship with patients by not friending patients on their personal social media platforms, or creating professional pages where patients would be welcome to join. It should also be emphasized that while their own posts should communicate professionalism, posts from others should be censored as needed, and groups that one is affiliated with should be weighed carefully. Whatever is on a person’s page, whether posted by that individual or someone else, can be interpreted as communicating that the person is in agreement with what is on their page.

Including an activity where students evaluate and correct the way they are communicating on their social media platforms should help prepare them once they enter the workplace and identify themselves as professional hygienists. Of course, social media platforms are not the only areas where careful online communication is important. Some other online communication areas include e-mails, communicating via video conferencing, chat rooms, instant messaging, comments posted in discussion forums, or a personal website or blog (Savelau, 2009).

A second activity that could be incorporated into their ethics and law class would be for students to identify all the areas where they personally communicate with others online. Their assignment would be to analyze past posts or pictures that they created and decide whether those posts or pictures should remain or not.

As we learned in EDLD 5316, it is not only important to remove negative communication, but also to promote positive communication actively. This could take the form of creating websites for dental hygienists or websites for patients. Students could learn how to create a blog for their patients also.

Teaching students to partake in an active online presence using good communication skills and choices would be a great way for them to practice good digital communication. Hopefully, it would encourage them to contribute to the hygiene community in meaningful ways that would help them grow professionally. There are several websites for dental hygienists with message boards and areas where they can post questions or discuss cases they have encountered. Encouraging the students to join these online organizations, such as Hygienetown, would hopefully be carried into their professional lives as they begin to work in clinical practice.

Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship are detailed guidelines for us to follow and teach in order to practice good citizenship online. This paper highlighted the importance of good digital communication for dental hygiene students as they enter the professional world. As it relates to dental hygiene, all nine are essential to understand and practice. Hopefully by the time the students enter college, they will already have a good understanding of what it means to be a good digital citizen. It is up to us as educators though to ensure that students are learning throughout their educational years about digital citizenship and how to behave in a community that is truly world-wide, and can have devastating consequences if not practiced wisely.




Beemsterboer, Phyllis L. (2017). Ethics and Law in Dental Hygiene, 3rd Ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education

Savelau, Dmitry. (2009). What are the Main Online Communication Tools? Retrieved from





Author: CruzN

I'm a Curriculum Specialist, Dental Hygienist, and Goldendoodle breeder. I want to share my passions with others so we can collaborate. I have an A.S. and a B.S. in Dental Hygiene, and a Master's in Education with a focus on Digital Learning. I have a passion for Goldendoodles, and have taken courses in breeding and genetics through AKC. I'm also a member of GANA. I have an amazing husband and three kids: Matt, Chloe, and Silas. I also have 3 dogs and a cat. Definitely a full house! When I'm not editing curriculum or fighting plaque and gingivitis, I like to hang out with friends and family (a little BBQ here and there), garden, play with the kiddos and my dogs, travel, and remodel our house (a never-ending project!). Most of all, I love to learn and share ideas. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: