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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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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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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“Partnering to End Violence Against Women”

BCDHA_sign_for_EVABC_xsmall_dp“In BC, there are over 1000 physical or sexual assaults against women every week.”(from EVA BC- )

A recent partnership between the BCDHA and the Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC) places dental hygienists in a key role in helping to intervene in individual situations and bring more general awareness to violence against women. Nearly 75% of physical injuries received during episodes of violence against women by an intimate partner are inflicted to the head, face, mouth and neck.  Dental hygienists are in a unique position to be among the first health care professionals to recognize signs of abuse and help survivors.  They may also witness behavioural indicators of abuse in their practice setting, such as interactions between partners.

A further dialogue with Tracy Porteous, Executive Director of EVA BC, about violence against women helped to further strengthen the connection between BCDHA and EVA BC and how each of us has an opportunity and responsibility to recognize the signs of violence and break the historical silence surrounding these issues.

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“I’m a Dental Hygienist…ASK Me What I Do!”

20150312_105645_resizedRecently BCDHA launched a button campaign called “I’m a Dental Hygienist…ASK Me What I Do!”. The primary goal of the campaign is to help inform the public about the key role dental hygienists play in health maintenance and promotion.  BCDHA has compiled some member stories about how dental hygienists have been able to educate clients and colleagues about the profession.

Be sure to sound off in the comments! Have you fielded a question about the profession that you want to share?   Let us know!

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Thank you are the only words- By Alison Sawyer


Good oral care has always been part of my life. My Mom and Dad ensured we went to the dental office twice a year and, for the most part, nothing was really scary or bad about it.  As an adult, paying for my own care, I’ve done pretty well.  Fairly regular and no problems.  Generally my teeth have been pretty good. One cavity in my whole life and only one weirdness in that I don’t have adult teeth under two of my molars (41 and I still have two baby teeth!).   When I became a Mom for the first time 12 years ago, the kids took priority.  Hubby and I have always worked on our own so dental plans have come and gone depending on how the money was coming in.  And, the kids are the priority. Period.

A few months ago I started to have some pain in my upper jaw.  I had a bad cold and attributed it to a sinus infection. I also have a wisdom tooth that while mostly in, sometimes flares up.  When the sinus infection went away and the pain lingered I figured it was this annoying wisdom tooth that I was going to have to get rid of.

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“Exploring our Capacity” by Sherry Saunderson, RDH

The following blog post is written by Sherry Saunderson, RDH. Sherry challenges her dental hygiene colleagues to utilize their role as primary care providers to think outside of the box and ask difficult questions that confront the status quo.  Thank you Sherry for sharing your thoughts!   

I received a Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA) membership email last January and was enthused to see that the theme of the CDHA 2015 Conference is “EXPLORE”, and that it is close to home this year taking place in Victoria, B.C.

EXPLORE is such a rich and wide theme area to cover as my profession evolves. In my eyes, the theme goes beyond the limiting ways we have been forced to practice up until recently. As I read my CDHA update, I continued to reflect even further on what this theme means to the profession.

EXPLORE could mean: travel in or through an unfamiliar area, search for, examine closely, inquire into or discuss in detail… ( Or: to investigate into, especially mechanically, as with a probe (Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition).


As dental hygienists, we can interpret EXPLORE in many ways because dental hygiene care and service can follow so many paths.


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Dental Hygienists Make a Difference

autismIn the spring of 2015, BCDHA ran a contest called “Dental Hygienists Make a Difference”. Members of the public were invited to submit stories of the excellent work done by dental hygienists every day, all over B.C.  Louise Witt submitted the winning nomination based on the excellent work done by Kayla Ragosin-Miller, RDH.

Congratulations to both of you on your prize winning entry!

“Advocating for positive change for children with autism”

Louise Witt knows what it means to advocate.  As a social worker she has spent much of her career advocating for her clients and when she became a Mom to son Jack who has autism, she learned that he too would need an advocate. As Louise describes it, interactions with people can be difficult for Jack and unfortunately often negative. In terms of Jack’s dental care in particular, it was always a struggle to treat him. “Our experiences with dental care have been horrible.  Restraints have been used and he has had to undergo general anesthetic. It was awful and I have spent years trying to figure out how to make this change.”

Through friends and other parents of children with autism, Louise learned about the “Desensitization Program” at BC Children’s Hospital started and run by Registered Dental Hygienist Kayla Ragosin-Miller.  The need for this type of program is high and, as a result, Jack spent quite a bit of time on the waiting list.  A few months ago, Jack finally got his appointment with Kayla.

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Learning: a lifelong love affair! Part 2

Sherry Saunderson is a woman of varied interests. She is an adventurer, traveler, dental hygienist and oral health advocate.  Her work and passions have taken her far and wide.  BCDHA is pleased to feature Sherry’s story in a two part series.  Thank you Sherry for your wisdom, insight and for sharing your experiences with our readers.

Be sure to take a read of Part 1, to see where we left off!

Part 2:

Taking a sabbatical in 1996 after their log home sold, Sherry and her husband traveled twice down to Baja, Mexico in a Westphalia van. As synchronicity happens, she learned that the largest Indian Band in B.C. was looking for someone to develop a dental program for their community.

Sherry began her new career path in 1997, under contract for eight hours a week.

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