Every Voice Counts!

suessOn March 29th, 2018 UBC’s Faculty of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Degree Program fourth year student teams presented their advocacy proposals to each other and guests who represented academia, regulation and professional associations. Led by Diana Lin, a Clinical Associate Professor with the UBC Faculty of Dentistry and class Instructor, the students were asked to research and present a cause advocacy issue with a clear focus on how dental hygienists can affect real system change through advocacy and action.

This year’s class featured seven presentation proposal topics:

  • Promote oral health education among elementary school-aged children with language barriers (videos with subtitles): Howard Chang, Kevin Ho and Yanlu Liu emphasized that childhood caries is an ongoing issue that impacts not just oral health, but also the overall health of children. Given Vancouver is a diverse, multi-cultural city, language barriers may impede access to oral care services and understanding of proper techniques if not presented in native languages. In order to address this issue, this team developed a series of online videos with subtitles geared to elementary aged children featuring child friendly images  to help children understand the importance of good oral health while also showing them a variety of oral care techniques. Subtitles in Vancouver’s major languages would assist children, parents and other care providers to ensure the messages are understood and easily implemented.
  • Increase the visibility of the Dental Hygiene Profession to other health professions: Cynthia Chiu, Winnie Law, Ophelia Lin and Cheryl Shum recognized that there is a lack of clarity about the role of the dental hygienist as primary care provider given that dental hygiene is a relatively young profession, having only  been recognized in 1951 Although UBC has a strong focus on Interprofessional education (IPE),  there are gaps in the way in which the dental hygiene profession in particular is integrated into the broader IPE curriculum. This team emphasized the need to address these gaps and strengthen this IPE component because an understanding of the role of dental hygienists will reinforce interprofessional education (IPE) and bolster collaborative practice.  They proposed editing the core dental hygiene role descriptors on the existing IPE curriculum.
  • Integrating POC HIV curriculum into Dental Hygiene curriculum: Alison Ashworth Sarah Rippe, Crystal Au and Monica Ta tackled the  role of the dental hygienist in early HIV detection. They noted that an astonishing 39 million people worldwide have died as a result of HIV/AIDS, several thousand Canadians are not aware they are HIV positive and 47% of the population has yet to be tested. Point of care testing, while already available, has been understandably put on the back-burner in BC as health authorities and providers focus on the opioid crisis. This team addressed the practicality and benefits of having dental hygienists provide early point of care testing to clients in low-cost and community clinics with appropriate training and supports from health authorities. They thus advocated for the POC HIV training course to be included in Dental Hygiene curriculum to address marginalized populations’ challenges in access to care and support overall public health.
  • Oral Cancer Screening as mandatory Continuing Education: Heather Bates and Nicole Pasin looked towards enhancing the role of the dental hygienist in primary care by proposing oral cancer continuing education being offered through the College of Dental Hygienists of BC (CDHBC). They noted that oral cancer screenings are often not performed with regularity due to a lack of knowledge and experience.  As primary care providers, dental hygienists are in a perfect position to take note of oral irregularities and ensure that the proper referrals are made when noted. This group asserted that if a credited education program could be offered by the CDHBC, it would create greater standardization and rigour in understanding how to recognize oral cancers in clients/patients.
  • Addressing oral health challenges of previously incarcerated women: Shannon Fitz, Kirsten Green and Kayley Sewak challenged themselves to think about how access to oral health care services could be improved for previously incarcerated women.  It’s important to note that in the prison system there is a lack of preventative oral health care services meaning the prison population generally only has access to oral care providers when situations are acute. Upon release, those who have been incarcerated face numerous barriers in terms of finding jobs/housing and accessing dental care. The group proposed connecting with a peer mentorship program run by and for formerly incarcerated women that seeks to make the integration into society easier by helping with housing, work etc. A pamphlet that provided information about oral care and a list of culturally safe low-cost clinics where services could be sought was created.
  • Preventing caries transmission in young children: Nouran El-Bulkiny, Rebecca Piccolo and Yolanda Lan focused on children’s oral health and the ways in which dental hygienists can help to promote early prevention.  It’s well documented that children with tooth decay can suffer from a variety of health challenges including trouble sleeping, eating and speaking. Cavity causing bacteria can be transmitted to children via shared utensils and other means, a fact that is not often understood by parents and caregivers. The group developed a Powtoon video that addressed key issues impacting children’s oral health and ways in which parents and care-givers can help.  As a dental hygienist led initiative, dental hygiene is showing how it can take a stand in helping to minimize the devastating impact of childhood caries.
  • Increase awareness of the relationship between oral health and overall health among new immigrant populations (interactive posters): Jessie Cho, Iris Chu and Jackie Tong highlighted the relationship between overall health and oral health particularly in immigrant and new Canadian populations. For many people there is still a lack of understanding that oral health can be a key indicator of overall health and that poor oral health can and does impact overall health and wellness.  Their campaign, focused on immigrant populations, incorporated a variety of language specific informational posters with QR video links to be placed in transit locations, buses and other forms of transit.

The diversity of presentations, strong solutions oriented approaches, multiple social media use, and the overall strength of the issues brought forward speaks volumes about the way in which dental hygienists can advocate for clients at all levels. Prof. Diana Lin noted, “I’m always impressed with the students’ creative ability to think about the role of the dental hygienist as primary health care provider in the broader context of system change and utilize various social media platforms to advance their cause . I want these soon-to-be graduates to enter the workforce knowing that they have the potential to affect real change through advocacy.”

This class provides an opportunity for all dental hygiene professionals to think about how we too can use our voices to advocate for our clients/patients on key issues. Thank you for inviting us to listen in!