Opinion: Historic CDHA decision is just a step ahead for dental hygiene

Mark Hartley discusses California decision to end dental hygiene business relationship with the ADHA.


My inclination after the first day of very heated arguments among dental hygienists in California was to ask for a shout out from everyone who has served in some capacity for one of the other 49 state dental hygiene associations.

An elected volunteer in a state dental hygiene association works hard and is underappreciated, enjoying too few rewards. They can share the tales of long nights, last-minute agenda changes, and unexpected expenses.

The stark reality, though, is that the California Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) has always been a step ahead of the rest of us.

The innovations initiated by California hygienists have been too numerous to count. They are pioneers who fully intend to remain pioneers. There is no settling into complacency with a California dental hygienist.

Naturally, it would have been wonderful if the CDHA had been successful with its requests to negotiate the charter agreement with the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. But by the end of the second day of the CDHA house of delegates meeting, it was apparent that all homework had been completed, and all debates heard. There was nothing about the CDHA house of delegates that implied hastiness or ill-advised decision-making.

It already feels like a hole in the heart of American dental hygiene that California is no longer a part of us, doesn’t it? But they’re ready to preserve the heritage they’ve created as American dental hygienists. They will do so with better control of their identity, resources, and creativity.

I listened to both sides of the arguments, and I was in the ADHA’s corner initially. I worried about what type of message that the “secession” would send to organized dentistry specifically and to consumers who may have heard about the recent 100th anniversary of the profession and asked, “What’s a dental hygienist? That lady who cleans my teeth and nags about flossing, right?”

It seemed it would be better if the profession remained unified among all states, just working out the differences.

(As everyone has said all along, the CDHA’s decision was a business decision. Contrary business decisions have a way of being resolved in America. The ADHA has already said there will be a constituent society in California—one way or the other. The ADHA could consider the expense of a new state association and compare it to the expense of renegotiating and act accordingly. Who knows? The CDHA as a separate entity may be short-lived. The revolution in California last weekend was an historic moment in the history of the profession. But a national business, even a nonprofit trade association, isn’t going to let the California market just walk off into the sunset.)

The grain of doubt, though, about whether the CDHA returns to being one of 50 state dental hygiene associations goes back to the beginning of this article. California dental hygienists take pride in their profession. I think members of the CDHA will derive much career satisfaction in setting policies for their state without the influence of the national association, and devoting their resources in making good things happen without sharing revenue nationally.

I also think the CDHA will pick up some new members—for a reason some of us would probably not want to discuss. Actually, the main reason I felt a certain degree of empathy toward California in a very hot Fresno (a high of 100 degrees every day in early June) was the repetition of two words—fear and distrust. Those are words hygienists were using to describe their interactions with the national association.


Why would anyone be fearful or distrustful of a professional association? The whole purpose of these associations is to be your ally. Part of advocacy is to foster professional pride and camaraderie among members. Remember, these were not nonmembers who were using those two words. I’m used to that. The most harmful “protest” is the lack of a win-win for an association or a nonmember is the individual who refuses to pay dues as part of a personal protest. In California, though, the dental hygienists using those words were members.

So the ADHA needs to work on that image of being too intimidating to dental hygienists.

So, as I leave Fresno, I’m already thinking about renting a booth at CDHA’s first annual session. It will be interesting to see how far they have progressed in a year. I hope California hygienists also remain interested in how the rest of us are doing as well; don’t withdraw from fellow American dental hygienists too!

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