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Dental Hygiene Politics: A Brief History

What do the politics of dental hygiene look like in your country?

Have you ever asked yourself, “How did dental hygiene, as we know it, begin?” While I remember learning the history and politics of dental hygiene during my studies, the details seemed to vanish into thin air under all of the other hygiene school pressure.

However, I recently came across this entertaining article, “Dental hygiene’s grand history”, by Laurie A. Milling, published in RDH magazine in 2010. Then I saw that there was more where that came from, such as this “100 years of dental hygiene timeline”. After reading these pages, along with a few others, I was so pleased to see how far dental hygiene has progressed as a profession in the US.

Political efforts in Luxembourg

It was yet another attack on the practice of dental hygiene here in Germany which sparked my interest in the history and politics of dental hygiene. It reminded me of the year 2008, when I teamed up with a forward-thinking dentist in Luxembourg to have dental hygiene officially recognized there.

We submitted an optimistic but professional petition to the Ministry of Health. This petition was, very respectfully, rejected. I couldn’t believe it.

Given how geographically close Luxembourg is to Switzerland, I assumed that the successful integration of preventive dentistry in Switzerland and Holland—neighboring countries—could only be natural. I was so wrong. But now I see where Germany fits in this painfully slow-to-develop scenario.

Find out more about elements of culture in Europe

Dental hygiene historically under attack

As you can see from the history of dental hygiene in the U.S., there has always been politics involved. Elements within the dental community have tried to hinder the progress of dental hygiene. The ADHA has been around from the early days of dental hygiene as a profession, and has fought for years on our behalf. We are proud of and grateful for their efforts.

When I see how slow these other countries can be to conform, I feel sad for the patients who don’t realize what they are missing. I’ve seen too many patients here (Germany) who, after moving to our practice from their old dentist, have to be told that their front teeth—upper and lower—have to go due to perio. Even though the patients have been for their regular check-ups every six months. One patient cried in my chair. Perio … preventable perio…

Read: What is it like to work in a European dental practice?

The politics of international dental hygiene – further reading

What is the state of dental hygiene in your country, in your office or clinic, today? Who, while practicing dental hygiene in Europe, can tell us of their daily struggles, in terms of politics or otherwise?

I read an article recently about Belgian hygienists being officially recognized. But what does the practice of dental hygiene in Belgium look like today? And what about in Holland?

These countries seem to be making strides in terms of scope of practice, based on this article. This piece from the Dental Tribune features the opinions of a hygienist, Dr. Lennemann, who has worked in various EU countries, and is also a good read.

Your experience of international dental hygiene politics

What about you hygienists on the ground in the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, etc.? What is the state of dental hygiene politics where you are? Are there any limits on:

  • SRPs?
  • Supra vs subgingival scaling?
  • Curettage?
  • Local anesthesia or nitrous oxide administration?
  • Supervision? Does a dentist have to be present as you work?
  • Diagnosing?
  • Independent practice?
  • Laser use in periodontal therapy?
  • Bleaching?
  • …other restrictions?

Feel free to comment below!

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Read our comprehensive guide to moving abroad as a dental hygienist.