Think back to your days as a dental hygiene student. How did you picture your future career as a dental hygienist? If you dreamed of working in a fancy dental office with the latest and greatest in high-tech gadgets, you have something in common with hygienist Casandra Smith.
In an article for Hygienetown Magazine, Smith admits she was once a fresh dental hygiene student who hoped to spend her career as a dental hygienist within the confines of a comfortable office. But her outlook changed when she began seeing patients in her college’s clinic.
“During my time at the clinic, I treated many patients from underserved communities,” Smith writes. “They all came from different walks of life, but they had one common thread — limited access to care.”
Each of Smith’s patients had a story. All had tried and failed to receive dental treatment in the past. They faced obstacles like lack of insurance or transportation, disabilities, and language barriers. When these patients finally received treatment, they showered her with hugs, gratitude, and even a few tears of joy.
From that point on, Casandra Smith dedicated her career as a dental hygienist to the field of public health.
Today, Casandra Smith works as a dental hygienist both in private practice and in a public health organization. She works with the Dental Sealant Program in Maricopa County, Arizona, travelling to elementary schools to place dental sealants on the teeth of students in need of care.
“Every school year, I see children with abscesses, rampant decay, and poor oral hygiene,” she writes. “Since most of these children have no dental insurance, I know that every dental sealant placed is very important.”
With an estimated 108 million Americans lacking insurance coverage for dental care, there is an urgent need for public health services in the United States. Public health organizations can help these people receive the hygiene treatment they need, and dental hygienists can make valuable contributions to the cause.
Casandra Smith wants dental hygienists to know being a clinician is not the only way to work in public health. “There are actually many ways a hygienist can overcome access-to-care issues and help the public receive hygiene treatment.”
For example, hygienists can create their own public health programs aimed at improving oral health in underserved areas. They can also advocate for change in public policy, and lobby for public health funding.
“No matter what role a dental hygienist plays in public health, it is a significant one,” Smith concludes. “Each role helps to grow public health, but when all the roles work together, the boundaries of public health can be transcended.”