What Can The Past of Dental Hygiene Tell Us of the Future?
I have been a member of the American Academy of Periodontology for my entire thirty plus year career. I attended the majority of the annual meetings. I wish I kept all the programs from those meetings because they would tell an interesting story. They would reveal the paths that careers in periodontics and dental hygiene have taken.
When I was a young periodontist, root planing and curettage was a big issue. The effectiveness of curettage was debated. Could one really remove the crevicular epithelium with a curette? Many, instead, advocated mini flaps like the modified Widman or the ENAP procedure. Remember the Keyes technique? Entire meetings were devoted to it.
The debate over the need for surgery raged. The pros and cons of osteoplasty were debated. Bone grafting was promoted. There was a new “latest and greatest” graft material every few months.
Then there was a major paradigm shift. It has proved to be the biggest change in the practice of periodontics in the last fifty years, maybe the biggest change ever. The change was implants.
Now, when you attend an AAP, or just about any other dental meeting, the discussion is implants. I don’t think I would miss the boat by much if I said that ninety percent of meeting content refers directly or indirectly to implants.
So, my question, what happened to periodontal disease and its treatment? The emphasis in our focus has shifted to implants and I suspect that shift has carried over into periodontal education. So who’s minding the store? It’s the hygienist.
Hygienists are assuming a larger and larger part of the management our patient’s periodontal health. They are taking responsibility for the diagnosis, treatment, and maintenance of these patients.
The hygienists that are content to “clean teeth” from nine to five are being replaced by a more educated group that are more highly trained and motivated to treat patients, not just teeth. However, responsibility comes along with this but I believe, as a whole, the hygienists are up to the task.
So, to answer the question to the title of this blog, the future of dental hygiene is bright and getting brighter.