Dental hygiene career alternatives: Breaking into public health

This dental hygienist, who suffers from occupational-realted pain, wonders about how to enter the field of public health. Read more about this dental hygiene career alternative here.

Mar 17th, 2016
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Dear Flossy is an advice column dedicated to professionals looking to expand their dental hygiene careers beyond traditional clinical practice. Get the column delivered to your inbox by subscribing to RDH eVillage Focus. Please send your questions for publication to flossy@pennwell.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Flossy,

First I would like to thank you for starting this column. I have been desperately looking for some good advice and a mentor to guide me for two years. I have been working as a dental hygienist for seven years in Toronto. I have a bachelor’s degree in Science and Dental Hygiene. Before that I was a dental assistant for 4 years.

For the past two years I have been forced to reduce my work hours to four to five hours per day due to pain in my neck (Trapezius Myalgia) and carpal tunnel syndrome. I have been managing the pain with reduced work hours, exercise, and occasional pain medications. This has reduced my income and increased my frustration. I have only worked in clinical dentistry all my life and know nothing else. After sulking for two years and blaming my profession for my situation, I have finally managed to pull myself out of my misery and decided to do something about it.

I have been thinking of career alternatives but can't decide which option is good for me and where to start. I am interested in working in public health or as a dental hygiene educator. I would be grateful if you can provide some insight into both fields. I want to know what kind of employment I can get in public health, if there are sufficient employment opportunities in public health in and around Toronto. Which master’s degree should I pursue to obtain that employment? If I decide to pursue a career in education, what kind of master’s degree is helpful for me? Would a master’s in education more beneficial for this career than a master’s in science since I don't have any teaching experience? Can you please tell me the list of some good degrees which can be done online?

I look forward to some good advice which can help me to stay connected to the profession I once loved. Thank you.

—Desperate Canadian dental hygienist

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I can certainly understand and appreciate your frustration pertaining to the challenges you’re facing in delivering clinical dental hygiene services.

Pertaining to your questions, I can only speak to the public health dentistry queries you posed. Currently, I work in the population and community health care sector. More specifically, I’m involved in public health dentistry as a dental hygienist. With your background, you should investigate dental hygiene opportunities in Toronto by contacting some of the local public health dental clinics. I cannot speak for the Toronto region pertaining to the job market, as I currently work in Southwestern Ontario in a public health unit.

The work of the dental hygienist in public health will often include (1) oral health screening and surveillance in elementary schools, (2) rendering preventive dental hygiene services, (3) oral health promotion and education, and (4) oral health advocacy. Working in public health dentistry, you will find no two days are the same. The variety and breadth of work in population health is substantial. If you’re looking to make a difference across a community versus strictly rendering dental hygiene individual care, public health dentistry might be an avenue to further explore. Typically, educational requirements to gain employment in public health vary, with most having a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. If you are looking into master’s programs, you may want to explore Master’s in Public Health or Master’s in Public Administration.

I would encourage you to look further online to help inform your decision. The Ontario Association of Public Health Dentistry (www.oaphd.on.ca) is a great source for all things related to public health dentistry in Ontario. Moreover, check out the Canadian Association of Public Health Dentistry (www.caphd.ca) for further dental resources or the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (www.alphaweb.org) for a more broad perspective of population health.

I hope this helps. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

—David Smith, manager clinical services, Elgin St. Thomas Public Health

Keep reading this column for future updates, and consider attending the RDH Under One Roof career mentorship special session. We would be delighted to see you there.


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