Research principles in dental hygiene education

The belief that something that is successful with one patient will be successful with another patient is of the past. Today, dental hygienists know that preventing and controlling dental disease requires an evidence-based approach, and conducting research provides a scientifically-based standard of care for our patients. All dental hygienists need to understand research principles, not just the ones that are receiving higher degrees.

Jun 24th, 2014
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The need for conducting research within the dental hygiene profession is relatively new in dental hygiene literature. Although research was inherent in the creation of dental hygiene, research was not always a priority for the profession. In fact, dental hygienists have based some practices on anecdotes rather than sound evidence-based research. The belief that something that is successful with one patient will be successful with another patient is a belief of the past. Today, dental hygienists know that preventing and controlling dental disease requires an evidence-based approach, and conducting research provides a scientifically-based standard of care for our patients.

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Although this evidenced-based approach is becoming more prominent in practice, many dental hygiene programs do not comprehensively educate their students on research principles. Furthermore, a large amount of dental hygienists that graduate begin practicing without knowing about the importance of research to the dental hygiene profession. In order to allow future dental hygienists to interpret current literature and to advance dental public health and the dental hygiene profession itself, dental hygiene programs must incorporate education on basic research principles.

Some dental hygiene programs, their students and instructors included, would argue that their program does not allow time for an additional course dedicated to research. This may, in fact, be true in associate degree programs. Testimonials from students of these programs reveal that the rigid and full course loads could not handle the addition. However, this does not mean the profession should write off dental hygiene research as unimportant. As the profession develops and advances, so must the dental hygiene entry-level curriculum. There is a need and demand for dental hygienists to become more literate, and changing entry-level education from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree is the answer. In 2005, the American Dental Hygienist’s Association (ADHA) published a report titled “Focus on Advancing the Profession,” in which one of their recommendations for advancement was raising the educational standard. With the extended amount of time a baccalaureate degree requires, it would be a relatively smooth transition to incorporate courses on research.

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Although the amount of dental hygienists researching within the field has been small, more dental hygienists are conducting research than ever before, as seen in the dental hygiene periodicals. Additionally, much research is published in other health-care periodicals that is relevant to dental hygiene care. As a result, it is paramount that dental hygienists are able to interpret the results of research and decide if research is valid and credible. This will allow dental hygienists to make an educated decision on whether or not to apply that research to their everyday practice. The only way for dental hygienists to graduate ready to interpret all the literature that is published is for them is to learn basic principles during their professional education.

In 2007, the ADHA published a National Dental Hygiene Research Agenda. This agenda detailed areas in which dental hygiene research is necessary, and two of the areas called for research in public health promotion, disease prevention, and health-care services. The ADHA’s Research Center states that “industry-specific” research is needed to achieve the goal of dental hygiene advancement. This means research conducted by dental hygienists. The core component of public health is researching new innovations and strategies for success. If a dental hygienist never learns the basic principles of research in their entry-level education, the profession will only see research by those that further their education. Thus, the profession leaves out those dental hygienists who do not advance their educational credentials. This being said, the entry-level education of a dental hygienist requires a foundation in research in order to improve the public’s dental health.

Not only do dental hygienists need to be educated on research for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the profession. Dental hygienists cannot be expected to research if they are not taught in school the basics as well as the importance. Skimming over the details of research just to pass the boards is inappropriate with the continuing changes in the science and practice.

In conclusion, today’s changes to an evidence-based approach to dental hygiene practice needs to be addressed in entry-level dental hygiene education. In order for this additional needed coursework, the entry-level educational requirements for the profession should be raised. In order for dental hygienists to interpret current literature and statistics, basic research principles are needed in the dental hygiene curriculum. Research by dental hygienists is needed to advance public health and the dental hygiene profession. An infrastructure of research must be provided during the dental hygienist’s professional training to promote research efforts in the future. And all dental hygienists need to understand research principles, not just the ones that are receiving higher degrees.

Amy Molnar RDH, BS is a student at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at molnar.90@osu.edu.

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