Every year BCDHA waits in anticipation to receive an invitation to attend the presentation of advocacy projects by UBC’s Faculty of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Degree Program fourth year students. We were pleased that once again Diana Lin, a Clinical Assistant Professor with the UBC Faculty of Dentistry and class Instructor, extended an invitation to come and hear the fantastic work these students have done.
Let us consider why it is important for these soon to be graduates to undertake advocacy projects? Why does advocacy matter in dental hygiene? As Diana Lin notes, “Dental hygienists use their role as primary care providers in many ways. We help people to understand the link between oral health and overall health. We advocate for our clients and their health, and we provide care in a complex and challenging healthcare environment. It is important to me to impress on students, especially those soon to be entering the work-force, how critical it is to learn what advocacy means and what tools they have at their disposal.” Advocacy can take on a variety of forms but at its core it is about influencing systems and structures to change through concrete action.
So what did the 2016 fourth year students decide to focus on and in which areas do they see that the ‘voice’ of dental hygiene needs to be heard?
- Brian Kang, Matt Laul and Chad Huang advocated for the use of mouth-guards for young athletes. Their key advocacy issue was the prevention of sports related dental and orofacial injuries among young athletes. They focused primarily on a local Vancouver basketball team. With strong research about the importance of using mouth-guards, Brian, Matt and Chad argued that mouth-guards are not only essential for young athletes to protect against injury, but are a cost-effective investment that can save considerable cost should an injury be sustained. Their plan is to take their plan forward with the basketball team and provide the team with access to cost-effective services for mouth-guard fitting. The initiative was to be supported by partnership with the UBC Dental Hygiene Degree Program.
- Jaymi Embuscado, Alana Haugland, Vanessa Hong and Cindy Xu advocated about the need to provide oral health education to low-income families on the importance of dental hygiene. They noted that children from low socio-economic status have the highest incidence of dental decay and, as the main caregivers for oral health, parents require education to help them understand the necessity of good dental care from an early age. The group’s target is children entering kindergarten at a local Vancouver elementary school. Through parental education, the group is focused on helping parents understand that good oral care is important for a child’s health, well-being, speech, self-esteem and, if started early, sets a pattern for good oral care through the child’s life. Moreover, the financial strain of dental care can be reduced by preventative oral care practices.
- Lauren Laverty, Amber Lee, Jaspreet Samra and Laura Wolfe advocated for moderation of rubber cup polishing. They noted that this type of polishing has become all too routine and expected by clients who are not well versed on the potential risks in doing so too often. Guidelines and position statements around this polishing are limited and difficult to find. Moreover, while all dental professionals are bound by professional standards and ethics, there is a lack of resources focusing on the problems associated with too much rubber cup polishing. Add to this the economic benefits for dental offices of charging for the procedure and it has been difficult to form consensus on the issue in spite of evidence which clearly demonstrates the pitfalls of this procedure. The group is advocating primarily for the need for dental professional groups to collaborate on a joint position statement focusing on standards and parameters on rubber cup polishing.
- Hailea Fulljames, Zoe Ignacio-Pacunayen and Sonia Minhas advocated on behalf of providing oral care education to vulnerable populations affected by social stigma. Their primary goal is to implement oral health education sessions, starting with a local Aboriginal health society, for individuals who are part of socially stigmatized groups. These students recognized that it is common for stigmatized individuals, whether self or publicly stigmatized, to neglect healthcare. This often results in a lack of continuance of care and/or reduced awareness of the causes and prevention of oral diseases. They believe that it is imperative that dental hygienists utilize their profession as a vehicle to promote client interaction within the healthcare system. Moreover by doing this, healthcare providers’ social awareness and support is increased. This student team argued that it is through positive relations with healthcare professionals that these individuals can become reoriented to the health system as a whole.
- Samantha Bote, Natalie Grzegocki and Raj Lidder advocated for dental hygienists to raise greater awareness among teens about the dangers of vaping, or inhaling vapour from e-cigarettes. It’s no secret that vaping has become very popular among young people. Marketers sell products geared specifically towards younger generations. Additionally, there is limited literature available to people that clearly highlights the dangers associated with vaping. This group is advocating for dental hygienists to take the lead on helping to educate young people about the dangers of vaping. Their focus was primarily on educating hygienists about the ins and outs of vaping and to build their capacity in order to help teens in particular understand the overall health implications.
- Jessica Ren, Flora Chang, Joe Tian and Si-si Xu advocated for the creation of a mobile ‘app’ to be utilized by non-native English speakers to help them better understand and communicate with dental hygienists at dental hygiene appointments. This smartphone app would include the most commonly spoken languages, aside from English, in Vancouver. This group is focused on the need for culturally sensitive interactions with people who might be deterred from visiting their dental hygienist because of barriers in language and culture. The group also argued that through the use of the app dental hygienists can help empower their clients by helping them gain better control of their oral health needs. Such an app would also help to build a sense of community and positions dental hygienists as primary healthcare providers who represent a client focused entry to the broader system.
- Delwyn Lee, Ian Liu, Connie Choi and Ivy Hsieh advocated for the use and hiring of dental hygienists in palliative care settings. They focused primarily on the hospital setting in which nurses are often asked to provide oral care services. While highly skilled healthcare providers, nurses are not educated in dental care to the same level that dental hygienists are. Moreover, nursing shortages means that nurses are often over-worked and other urgent care needs are often prioritized over oral care, leading to further health challenges amongst the already-seriously ill. An in-hospital dental hygienist on a part-time basis could work in concert with other health care providers and in turn would ensure that the oral care needs of the palliative patients would be addressed and a holistic approach to care could be provided. While this advocacy project has the very definite benefit for patients/clients it also works to integrate dental hygienists into hospital settings and the primary care team.
Every group of students brings with them unique perspectives and insights. In the years that we’ve had the chance to listen to these, no two presentations have ever been alike. Each group takes on a unique project and applies innovation and creativity to their advocacy projects.
As is clearly evident, students in this 4th year class focused on big issues impacting dental hygiene and saw possibilities for areas in which dental hygienists could apply their skills for the benefit of clients and the health system as a whole.
Thank you Diana Lin and all of the students who shared their projects with us. You continue to inspire!