Zoom In With a Registered Dental Hygienist
Teledentistry – Dignity Health, First Teeth First
February is Children’s Dental Health month so it is fitting for me to tell you about our children’s oral health program. The First Teeth First Program is a community-based program providing services to children 0-5 years of age and expectant mothers at no charge. Services provided include an oral screening, anticipatory guidance, goal setting, and referral and care coordination, provided by a registered dental hygienist and promotor. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program operated in person at WIC clinics (Women, Infant, and Children), pediatrician’s offices, OBGYN offices and childcare. In March 2020, when Arizona declared a public health emergency, the First Teeth First program was unable to provide oral health services in the community. However, it became clear there was still a need for oral health consultation and screenings when our partners at the WIC program called to ask for our assistance to guide families with dental health concerns and questions. Our WIC partners had received numerous requests from clients for oral health services during Zoom appointments with their clients. We discovered there was a need for the communication of oral health information through a new medium. Such was the inception of our teledentistry project!
The Story Of Dental Therapy
Many years ago, when the profession of Dental Hygiene was born in the United States, Dental Therapy was being born in New Zealand. Recently some states have legalized Dental Therapy (and New Zealand has adopted Dental Hygiene!)
When Dental Therapy was started in Australia and New Zealand, the therapists worked in schools on children. They could meet most of the dental needs of children. The services were supported by the government. The Therapists were paid a salary not based on procedures. Adults were cared for in private dental practices paying for procedures much like in our country. The education was two years long. The therapists were “supervised” by a dentist who was available for consultation and performed chart audits on an annual basis. The dentist worked in Wellington, the Capitol of New Zealand. Interesting Fact: Currently there are more countries on the planet that have Dental Therapists than have Dental Hygienists. Both Australia and New Zealand have combined the education for Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy into a Bachelor of Oral Health degree.