Do I think about dental hygienists too much?

May 26, 2006
RDH Editor Mark Hartley reads a couple of articles about global warming and nurses in Africa, which makes him think about dental hygienists.

by Mark Hartley

I read a couple of articles today in The New York Times that made me think of dental hygienists.

A "conservative" environmentalist wrote the first article, and he acknowledged the reality of an "artificially" warmer planet. The second article addressed how a loophole in immigration law would drain other countries of nurses, since the door would be opened to relieve nursing shortages in the United States.

Naturally, the accusation could be made that I think about dental hygienists too much.

"Why are you taking so long to move?"

"I was just thinking about how the knight reminds me of dental hygienists. Or maybe it's the rook. I don't know if I would say the bishop. Too much of a lateral movement."

A sigh from my chess opponent. "Why don't you just speculate that it's the queen that reminds you of hygienists?"

"Well, I would. But I don't want to think about her too much, because I might move her somewhere and you would capture her."

Another sigh. "You're right about that. Just move! I need to get some sleep."

Gregg Easterbrook, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, explained in The Times how he has spent several decades examining the evidence behind global warming and has remained skeptical about it all. Until recently. Now he states, "While natural variation may play roles in climatic trends, overwhelming evidence points to the accumulation of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, as the key."

Easterbrook still shakes his head in puzzlement about the impact of a warmer world, which led to the most interesting paragraph in his May 24th article:

"Many greenhouse uncertainties remain, including whether rising temperatures would necessarily be bad. A warming world might moderate global energy demand: the rise in temperature so far has mostly expressed itself as milder winters, not hotter summers. Warming might open vast areas of Alaska, Canada and Russia to development. My hometown of Buffalo might become a vacation paradise. (Buffalo lakefront real estate is cheap. Here's a tip: buy some now.)"

But it was the writer's rehashing of how we coped with the smog of the 1960s and the acid rain of the 1980s, which resulted in a healthy skepticism about global warming, that made me think of dental hygiene. He noted how scientists throughout the 1990s said, "no evidence."

It made me think about dentistry's current reaction to the "systemic link." Every year, there are fewer dental professionals who proclaim, "No evidence." The evidence does appear to be mounting in favor of linking overall health to the health of the oral cavity. During the last 10 years, many of us have frowned upon articles, speakers, and researchers who seemingly stretched their interpretation of systemic health to the limit.

Maybe one day soon, a former skeptic will acknowledge the good work of these health-care leaders in The Times.

The other article was about a loophole in the immigration legislation that was snaking its way through the Senate during the past couple of weeks. The United States would look favorably on allowing foreign nurses to enter the country for similar jobs here. Nurses from Africa, the Philippines, and India would gladly seek the higher wages offered by the U.S. health-care system. The problem, as noted by The Times, is that a nursing shortage would occur in these other countries.

"The exodus of nurses from poor to rich countries has strained health systems in the developing world, which are already facing severe shortages of their own," the article said.

American dental hygienists, of course, lead the way in international preventive dental care, and most countries still lack the skilled equivalent of a dental hygienist. But there are some countries that aggressively pursue excellence in dental hygiene, and how would immigrants view a $25 an hour paycheck (down from the $30 to $40 an hour earned by American-trained hygienists)?

I probably think about dental hygienists too much, spending too much time reading between the lines. But it's a thought.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH magazine.