Global RDH: Insights on the international developments in dental hygiene and working abroad

Feb. 7, 2017
Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, discussed international dental hygiene organizations, as well as provides tips for American dental hygienists who want to work abroad.

By Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS

I often receive queries about dental hygiene education programs around the world, as well as working in an international capacity as a dental hygienist. I will shed some light on these topics in this article.

Every country has their own educational standards for dental hygiene education, with great variations. On the more rigorous side, we have the Netherlands who went from a two-year curriculum to a four-year higher professional education curriculum.(1)

In the 50 years since the dental hygiene profession started in the Netherlands, change has occurred rapidly. Dental hygienists in the past were required to practice under the supervision of a dentist. This changed in 1992 to a referral from a dentist system, and again in 2006, when dental hygienists were able to have direct access to the public, and vice versa.(1) Over one-third of the dental hygienists working do so in an independent practice.

In the United States, entry-level dental hygiene education is under the auspices of the Commission on Dental Education (CODA). This includes certificate, associate, and baccalaureate degree programs. Certificate and associate degree programs are typically for two years. There are also degree completion programs, usually accredited by an educational institution such as a university.

For more on the Commission on Dental Accreditation Accreditation Standards for Dental Hygiene EducationPrograms, visit this website.(2) There are also countries that require less than two years of education.

Regarding international dental hygiene education, there is a forum that has been held in the past in Germany and Canada. A third meeting will be hosted on March 17, in Long Beach, Calif. The International Dental Hygiene Educator’s Forum (IDHEF) is a meeting of global dental hygiene educators who promote networking and share curriculum information worldwide. The IDHEF is not affiliated with any group or organization.

The meeting was started by Sylvia Fresmann of Germany and me. This year we have speakers from the United States, Australia, Japan, and Portugal. There will also be a panel discussion featuring Ann Battrell, MSDH, of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA); Tami J. Grzesikowski, RDH, MEd., of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA); and Robyn Watson, RDH, BSc, MPA, president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH).

At the forum, there will be a focus on introducing technology into the curriculum and patient education, interprofessional education, corporate partnering, teaching evidence-based methodology, submitting a scientific paper, and more. For more information, email me (see below) and I will send the program and registration information. There is also a IDHEF Facebook page.(3)

There is also the International Federation of Dental Educators and Associations (IFDEA), “a global community of dental educators who have joined together to improve oral health worldwide by sharing knowledge and raising standards.”(4) The group focuses on dental rather than dental hygiene education, and there are no dental hygienists on their board of directors.

The IFDH does focus on dental hygienists and “unites dental hygiene associations from around the world in their common cause of promoting dental health.” The IFDH has a committee on education, as well as information on their website about education, research, awards, community health, and a number of other topics.(4)

The IFDH also offers the IFDH Education Academy, an international continuing education resource for dental hygienists. Courses are offered on the IFDH Education Academy webpage at discounted rates for IFDH Individual Members and members of IFDH Association Members. The United States is a member through the ADHA.

A good resource for those that wish to practice dental hygiene in another country is the “Working Abroad” of the website. The 28 country members of the IFDH list the requirements necessary to work in that particular country. Other information provided includes:
  • Procedures and/or documents that are necessary to be able to work in a country
  • The official licensing body in the country
  • Special conditions that may apply for hygienists who obtain employment
  • Contacts for a work permit and/or visa
  • Languages spoken
  • Required examinations.
  • Information on the local working environment, scope of practice, standards tasks performed, and country statistics.

There are also countries that have exchange programs for dental hygiene students. Some dental hygiene students travel to other parts of the world as a part of their dental hygiene educational experience. For example, Old Dominion University School of Dental Hygiene is partnering with Physicians for Peace and the University of Nicaragua-León Dental School to establish the first dental hygiene education program in Central America.(5) Old Dominion had also international alliances with Saudi Arabia and Germany. The University of New Mexico's Division of Dental Hygiene established its first international oral health outreach program in Granada, Nicaragua, about five years ago. There are now dental hygiene programs in Brazil, Pakistan, and Nepal, to name a few.

So, reach for your passport, pack your bags, and expand your horizons! We are now a world without borders.

Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS is co-founder of the International Dental Hygiene Educator’s Forum, and co-editor of the textbook Dental Hygiene: Applications to Clinical Practice. She was President of ADHA 1997-98 and President of the IFDH 2010-2013. She can be reached at: [email protected].


  1. Jongbloed-Zoet C, Bol-van den Hil EM, La Rivière-Ilsen J, van der Sanden-Stoelinga MSE. Dental hygienists in The Netherlands: the past, present and future. Int J Dent Hygiene 10, 2012; 148–154 DOI: 10.1111/j.1601-5037.2012.00573.x