Dental care, in some form or another, has been around for hundreds of years. Over the years, with the help of technology, dental care has advanced and become more effective. In today’s time, taking care of your teeth has become a part of your normal health and hygiene habits. Twice a year you call in and make your routine dental check without giving it much of a thought. But have you thought much about where dental care along with dentists and dental hygienists originated?

The Beginnings of Dental Hygienists

Even though dental care has been dated back as far as 5000 BC with the Egyptians, the first mention of a dental hygienist wasn’t until the 1880s. During this time, dental hygienists were called dental nurses or ladies in attendance. It is noted that dental nurses administered prophylaxis treatment as a way for dental disease prevention. Prophylaxis treatment is the proper term for just regular dental cleanings. This treatment only involves the visible tooth and is performed by a dental hygienist. The tartar and plaque buildup is removed from the tooth and surrounding gums during prophylaxis treatment. Malvina Cueria was officially the first woman to be recognized as a dental assistant in the 1880s. She was only a teen when she began her career, but her work brought her far in life. Her presence in the office allowed for women to receive dental treatment without their husband present in the room. This was a huge triumph for women’s rights. RDH tells us that in 1906, a dentist by the name of Alfred C. Fones, trained his dental nurse, Irene Newman, as his apprentice by helping scaling and polishing teeth. Alfred disliked the term dental nurse and began using the term we do now, dental hygienist.

Dental Hygienist Training

happy dental assistant with patient

In 1910, the Ohio College of Dental Surgery started offering a formal course to properly train dental nurses. Unfortunately, dentists in Ohio were opposed to the formal training school and would not allow those who completed the training to practice with them. After the disdain towards the school, the dental nurse schooling was closed down. Alfred C. Fones then went on to train a total of 97 dental hygiene students. At this time, the hygienists were finally allowed to become licensed and practice along with dentists. Connecticut was the first state to allow prophylaxis treatment to be administered by a trained dental hygienist. In 1914, the national hygiene organization, known as the American Dental Hygienists’ Association was created. This organization allowed for the regulation of dental hygienists and their duties underneath the dentists.

The Progression of Dental Care

From 5000 BC up to the 1900s, a lot had changed in the world of dental care. According to Very Well Health, the 1900s were a ground-breaking period for American dental assistants. Juliette Southard was hired in 1911 by Dr. Henry Fowler, a dentist in New York. She became known for her sincere dedication to her profession, intelligence, and leadership skills. Juliette formed a dental assistants society in New York in 1921. She was determined and broke professional barriers for herself and other dental assistants. In 1924, the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) was formed and Juliette Southard was elected as the first president. She left such a mark in the industry a scholarship was created in her name in 1929 and is still available to those looking to enter in the career field as a dental assistant.

The 1960s had a lot of history making firsts. In 1960 the ADA endorsed the effectiveness of fluoride treatment and sealants as prevention for tooth decay. The very first national board exam for dental hygienists was given in April of 1962; the same year the first electric toothbrush was created. Then in 1965, the first male dental hygienists graduated from the University of New Mexico. Also during the year of 1965, ADHA bylaws were amended allowing equality for male dental hygienists as the same rights for females.

masked dental assistant

The next big step for dental hygienists was in 1974. The first dental hygienist was appointed to the state board of dentistry in Maryland. With time, the duties and rules progressed for hygienists. During the 1970s, Washington became the 44th state to allow dental hygienists to administer anesthetic. Also, the uniform was changed from dresses to pants to help accommodate sitting better. In the early 1980s, there was a worldwide health scare that was later identified as HIV/AIDS. However, during the early years, no one knew how HIV/AIDS were contracted. Some believed it could be contracted thru dental offices. OSHA provided infection control recommendations in 1985, followed by newly mandated sterilization and personal protection equipment rules in 1988. Gloves, eyewear, and a mask were now required when providing dental treatment. The 1980s ended with the first at home bleaching kit!

Over the next 20 years, the hygiene scene grew and grew. Technology advanced dental care practices and hygienists were given more responsibilities. As the 2000s came in full swing, so did cosmetic dentistry. There was, and still is, high demand for cosmetic dentistry such as veneers and whitening products. Hygienists today have so many more treatment options and dental care practices to provide to patients including pain control.

Dental Hygienist as a Rewarding Career

Being a dental hygienist takes dedication, commitment, and patience. According to a study done by Sunstar, 69% of dental hygienists say they would enjoy their profession. Yes, there are frustrations and long days but at the end of the day, it is well worth the effort. Helping patients have good oral health and be able to smile confidently again is very rewarding. According to RDH, the top 5 achievements as a dental hygienist are:

  • Improving and positively affecting patient’s health
  • Missing and community volunteer service
  • Listening to patients and learning from them
  • Oral health education and oral cancer detection
  • Educating the dental professionals of the future
Tooth with graduation cap

These are all great reasons to become a dental hygienist. The career options as a hygienist are growing and continue to grow. Teaching and research opportunities are available to those who obtain a post-secondary degree. The Advanced Dental Hygiene Practioner license combined with a master’s degree will allow dental hygienists to provide midlevel oral health care. Things such as minimally invasive restorations, limited prescription authority, and more oral hygiene education and services. With the ever growing dental field and opportunities, pursuing a career as a dental hygienist is a great choice that you won’t regret. To find out more about the world of a dental hygienist, call into your local Southeast Idaho dentist and ask for a tour.