A thank you to often unrecognized primary health care providers

thank-you-word-cloud-1024x791-350x200I consider myself first and foremost a ‘consumer’ of health care. I have also served time on committees as a patient representative over many years and have advocated for patients on a number of health issues. I know that this makes me more knowledgeable about the health care system than the average ‘consumer’. While I am not a health care provider, I have observed the system as it functions, or not, in many ways. A recent experience with my mother led me to start expanding my thinking about what primary care is and who provides it.

Like many people I have always tended to think of the primary care provider as my doctor, maybe a nurse, but probably my physician. In spite of being knowledgeable about health care, I have always been slightly myopic in my perspectives on who provides primary care services.  As I’ve continued my education in this area, I’ve come to learn much more about the role of dental hygienists in particular as primary care providers.

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Breaking Down Barriers


A recent UBC news publication highlighted the fact that there are 12,300 visits to the Emergency Room (ER) each year in B.C. related to non-traumatic dental issues.  As well, a recent study published this month (September 2017) in the Canadian Journal of Public Health highlighted the cost of ER visits for preventable problems, such as tooth decay, and shared interviews with 25 people with mental illness and addiction who reported feeling stigmatized when they tried to access dental services.

Oral care providers understand fully that the cost of dental care is a key barrier to access. We also understand that marginalized populations often feel stigmatized in health care settings when they do seek care.  The fact is these numbers make it clear that people are not getting access to preventative care for problems like caries or gum disease which in turn leads to a larger problem that then causes them to seek help in the ER.

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“Cultural Awareness- Working with First Nations Communities: Seek First to Understand” by Sherry Saunderson, RDH

Sherry Saunderson, RDH.

Sherry Saunderson, RDH.

I have had an intrinsic interest in Indigenous cultures most of my life. Perhaps I was influenced by my mother and grandmother’s stories through their contact with members of the Sarcee Reserve (now Tsuu T’ina Nation), which was down the road from my grandparents’ Southwest Calgary home. I also had many unanswered questions about “Indians” since my knowledge of Canadian “history” was learned through the French/English colonial perspective.

Three decades after my dental hygiene graduation I had the opportunity to learn more about Coast Salish peoples when I was offered a contract to work with the Cowichan Tribes. My goal was to develop a community health family based program to tackle high rates (79%) of early childhood caries. I was also fortunate to have the chance to seek out courses to increase my limited knowledge of Indigenous peoples in Canada. I enrolled at Malaspina University College in Women’s Studies 210: Aboriginal Women and Treaties and Women’s Studies 211: Themes in Women’s Studies: First Nations. The classes, taught by two inspiring Indigenous instructors, were exhilarating and informative and fed my desire to learn more.

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World No Tobacco Day and the role of Dental Hygienists in Tobacco Cessation


Every May 31st is “World No Tobacco Day” (WNTD). The World Health Organization (WHO) proclaims this day each year to highlight the health and other risks associated with tobacco use. As primary health care providers, dental hygienists are well aware of the broad health implications associated with tobacco use.  Each year more than 7 million deaths are as a direct result of tobacco use. According to WHO, this number will grow in excess of 8 million by 2030 without concerted action and effort (source: WHO). While tobacco can be used in many forms of course, one of the most common is cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in Canada and accounts for 90% of all lung cancer deaths as well as roughly 80% of deaths caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Smokers are also at increased risk of suffering from heart disease, stroke, and increased health care utilization. (Source: CDC).

None of this is news to health care providers, yet millions of people continue to smoke and start smoking each year. The public is also better informed today than ever on the dangers of cigarette smoke.  Graphic labels, warnings and no shortage of literature highlighting the dangers of smoking are readily available. So if the public won’t listen to their GPs, what recourse could dental hygienists have in helping people quit?  The answer is simple, lots and by virtue of what we do, we have the ability to highlight other areas of physical concern that our patients may be less aware of.

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“Out of the box”


It’s that time of the year again!  UBC’s Faculty of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Degree Program fourth year student teams recently presented their advocacy proposals. Led by Diana Lin, a Clinical Associate Professor with the UBC Faculty of Dentistry and class Instructor, the students were challenged to think about a cause advocacy issue and how, as health care professionals, dental hygienists could advocate for their clients, and influence broader systems change through concrete and identifiable action.

Without further ado, let’s take some time to learn more about the seven presentations given this year.

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“To Floss or Not to Floss- Is this really the question we want to be asking?”

spinachteethIn August of 2016 a flurry of articles hit the media with respect to flossing. These articles pointed to several factors that seemingly made the case that flossing had not been proven effective.  For example:

  • The Associated Press reported that research into the long-term effectiveness of flossing had never occurred and therefore the efficacy of flossing could not be established;
  • Research into gum health as it related to regular flossing fell short because gum health was not measured ‘over a significant period of time’, ergo there was no way to measure the “real” (e.g. long-term) benefits of flossing on overall gum health, and;
  • Any evidence of the efficacy of flossing was limited, pointing to only a few scant Cochrane articles that anecdotally indicated that regular brushers and flossers had less incidence of gum bleeding than those who just brushed their teeth.

As a result of these articles, many on social and in mainstream media cheered the idea of being relieved of the perceived burden of flossing.

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Series: “Voices that need to be heard, Stories that need to be told” by Sherry Saunderson, RDH


After decades of working within my hygiene calling, I have come to appreciate a quote from poet Muriel Rukeyser:

The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”

I so agree with this thought because it speaks to the fact that while the Universe may be constructed of atoms, what really gives life meaning is the stories we live and the stories we share with one another. And, the more we share our own stories and listen to the stories of others, the more connected we feel and the easier it is to appreciate the unique value each of us carries, making our lives richer and more fulfilling.

One of the many gifts I have received working as a hygienist is hearing stories from my patients. As we have bonded and deepened our relationship over the years, I have the privilege to bear witness to their lives and understand the context from which they view their own oral health needs and how their decisions in choice of care have been made and influenced. I have learned that if I don’t ask the right questions, I cannot receive the right answers that I need to create the most positive outcome possible for each visit.

Below is just one of these stories.

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Social Media and the Dental Hygienist

Most of us have social media accounts or, if we don’t, we certainly know people who do. By social media accounts, we’re talking about a broad range of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus etc.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the idea- social media means many different things and encompasses a variety of platforms with varying purposes and varying reach.

Organizations use social media all the time, @BCDHA is a handle many of you are undoubtedly familiar with!  When an organization tweets the focus is often much broader than an individual because relevant research, policy areas, topics of interest, news etc. are the focus.  The opinion and/or position of the organization is clear, as opposed to the perspectives of the individual. According to the Institutes of Health, 31% of organizations put such a premium on social media use they have developed specific guidelines for its use.  Guidelines of course ensure that everyone within the organization is on the ‘same page’ and that staff are aware of limitations to their actions online.

For healthcare providers, social media presents a host of challenges. It can blur professional and personal lives, it can be a bastion of misinformation and rumours, privacy of patient information can be breached, and we’ve all seen the stories of healthcare providers tarnishing the image of their profession by making dubious choices online. For example, a couple of years ago several nurses (not in Canada) took it upon themselves to photograph themselves with a nude, unconscious patient. These nurses were, quite rightly, subsequently fired.

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Honouring those who have made outstanding contributions

awardsAs your professional association, BCDHA advocates on behalf of the profession and is dedicated to the principle that all British Columbians should have access to the quality preventative oral health services dental hygienists provide. BCDHA collaborates with government, the provincial dental hygiene regulatory body and clients to effectively serve members and the public. Members receive a variety of benefits and have access to professional development, education and other resources as well.

In addition to this work, BCDHA takes great pride in being able to recognize outstanding members of the profession.

Please take a few minutes to review our Awards and nominate colleagues and collaborators for:

  • Lifetime Membership- applications due by September 8th.
  • Honourary Membership- applications due by September 8th.
  • Barbara J. Heisterman Award for Outstanding Innovation and Commitment to Care- applications due by December 31, 2016

Learn more by going to,  http://www.bcdha.com/?page_id=550.

A Reminder in Light of Current Events

self-regRecently in the Globe and Mail there was an article addressing the principle behind self-regulating professions and in particular the recent decision by the B.C. Liberals to withdraw the Real Estate Council of British Columbia’s ability to regulate the real estate profession in B.C.  After years of consumer complaints and problems in the real-estate industry, self- regulation in real estate is gone. Many in B.C. will also remember that B.C teachers lost the privilege of self-regulation several years ago.

This is not to suggest in any way that dental hygiene, or any other health profession, will head down a similar path.  In fact the regulators of the health professions which include 22 Colleges that oversee the 24 professions regulated under the Health Professions Act (HPA), have been unique and forward thinking in uniting under the Health Professionals Regulators of BC (HRPBC), and in their desire to collaborate more and embark on campaigns that help the public understand the role of the regulator.  This group has understood that self-regulation is a privilege to be undertaken by committed regulators who all share the same goals.  It also bears noting that the nursing colleges, the College of Registered Nurses of BC, the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of BC and the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of BC, are working to co-create a single nursing regulator.

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