The Impact of Technology in Dental Hygiene Education

The infusion of technology in the dental hygiene profession can be seen all around a dental operatory – from bringing up patients’ records and digital X-rays on the laptop, to Googling a new medication a patient is taking, to showing a YouTube video on proper flossing techniques on your iPad. The incorporation of technology in dentistry has improved the way we serve our patients, and we have just begun to see the impact.
However, one cannot overlook the journey dental hygiene students take before they even step foot into a dental office and proudly display their license on the wall. We cannot forget how technology has impacted the formal education of dental hygienists. Being a dental hygiene educator for over twenty years, I have certainly seen the positive impact and changes that have occurred through technology, both in the classroom and clinic. Some of the greatest improvements that I have witnessed through the use of technology are better communication among students and faculty and the dissemination of vital information.

Let us begin in the classroom. No longer is a podium and “overhead transparency” the norm in a typical college classroom. These artifacts have been replaced with computers that are equipped with learning management systems such as Angel and Blackboard. Students can be seen taking notes or researching items on their iPads and iPhones. No longer will you hear the ruffling of textbook pages – the peaceful silence of a Kindle has stolen the spotlight.

They can identify the exact dimensions of a maxillary right premolar or reference the Universal Tooth Numbering System on their Oral Anatomy app. There is nothing like a 3D image of the skull to learn about the bones and structures of the oral cavity! If a student is struggling with a “modified pen grasp,” they just need to go online and check out the in-house videos that the preclinical faculty has developed through the help of the college videographer. If students are just having a stressful week, they can easily access Facebook and get encouragement and support from their dental hygiene Facebook family. Researching a particular project and utilizing evidence-based material has almost become a joyful event because of the ease and comfort of technology. Students need to be careful, however, that they still think for themselves and not copy and paste someone else’s efforts and hard work.

The invention of a discussion forum has certainly improved the way we think, communicate, and reflect upon a different point of view. It has opened our eyes to diverse perspectives, which is incredibly helpful in any health care profession. Who likes or wants to do a full-blown research paper? Creating your own website or utilizing software programs such as Weebly can be so much more entertaining – and it’s a better learning experience. Place your website online, and the whole world can benefit from it! When asked to present information to their classmates on a certain dental emergency, a boring PowerPoint will just not do. Students can utilize YouTube to show their creative side and actually act out the emergency, and classmates can then visualize how to manage it.

Technology in the dental hygiene clinic abounds, from digital X-rays to the intraoral camera, to the phase microscope. Faculty and students alike could not see a thing without their customized loupes, and patients love to check in on the office computer, located at the kiosk in the reception area. The clinician can look up a patient’s most current medication list, which is stored on a USB that the patient brought in. Sending digital X-rays and important documentation to other dentists or physicians is just a click away.

Researching possible scholarship opportunities to defer the cost of tuition has become much easier through technology. The resources available online are numerous. Most students are bound to qualify for at least one of them!
Staying connected to your profession is essential for a rewarding career. Being a member of your professional organization, such as the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), is easy through technology. Any time or any place, you can access their website and find the most current information about our profession, both locally and nationally.
If CE credits are what you are seeking, a dental hygienist is just one click away from a plethora of courses that are offered online, even some through active webinars. Taking these interactive courses online makes participants feel as if they are actually in a classroom. Normally, there is a Q & A section where you can get your questions answered immediately. There are larger dental corporations that even offer CE credits free of charge.
As one can see, there is no doubt that technology has positively impacted the dental hygiene profession and how we serve the public every day. Patients will continue to expect the best treatment modalities a dental hygiene professional can offer. It is our professional and ethical responsibility to provide each patient we serve the best treatment plan available, based on their individual needs, and one that is evidence-based and scientifically proven. As we know, it all starts with a good education. It is an exciting time in dentistry, and I am anxious to see what tomorrow will bring.

David P. Micklin D.D.S. is a dentist serving Cherry Creek and Glendale, CO. Our dental office offers family dentistry in Glendale and the Cherry Creek neighborhood.

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