As the California Dental Hygienists' Association's (CDHA) 25th anniversary year draws to a close, it is only fitting that the organization recently contributed to a massive volunteer effort to bring health services to the state's homeless, low-income and underserved.
"Year in and year out our primary mission remains constant - to improve the public's total health and expand access to oral health care for every Californian," said Ellen Standley, CDHA President. "Oral diseases are among the most widespread and treatable of all public health issues, yet millions go without any care."
Last month, dozens of CDHA members volunteered their time at Remote Area Medical (RAM) events in Sacramento and Oakland. People waited in line for more than 12 hours to receive free health care services, including teeth cleaning, oral screenings and other procedures provided by licensed dental hygienists, dentists and dental assistants.
"As a 30-year member of CDHA, this clinic was one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career as a dental hygienist," said Cheryl Tormey, RDH, who lives in the Sacramento area. "Many were people out of work, under insured or unemployed. I had not expected the need in our own community to be so strong."
"The RAM event in Oakland was absolutely amazing," said Brittany Negrete, RDH, who reported that people waited in line for treatment starting the night before, some with their families, which included elderly and infants.
"The event was so inspiring I returned on Sunday and brought a hygienist friend with me," she said. "It is disheartening to see so many people lacking appropriate preventive care. It is just another reminder of the tremendous need for basic healthcare as well as the need for health care reform so that everyone has access to quality care."
In addition to events such as RAM, CDHA members throughout California give back to their own communities by providing services at local health fairs as well as implementing their own programs. For example, The Orange County Dental Hygienists' Society (OCDHS) organized a free dental clinic to benefit the women and children of Colette's Children's home - a transitional home that helps homeless women and women with children obtain support and achieve self-sufficiency.
For the past 25 years, CDHA has been a vocal and aggressive advocate for expanded access to oral health care for all Californians, said President Standley. The association has been responsible for creating an environment in which California's dental hygienists can more effectively provide services to the needy.
"One of our most significant accomplishments in the past decade has been to establish the RDHAP (Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice) licensure category, which gives our profession greater autonomy and authority in responding to the homeless, homebound and elderly."
Since 1985, CDHA has also made major strides in how the profession is regulated and perceived by the public. CDHA sponsored successful legislation that as of July 2009 assigned oversight of the profession to a new Dental Hygiene Committee of California (DHCC) under the Department of Consumer Affairs. This protects consumers because it ensures that the profession is being licensed and overseen by the experts in the dental hygiene field.
In addition to increasing access to care through legislative policy changes, CDHA has boosted consumer awareness about the health benefits of services delivered by Registered Dental Hygienists.
"Through health fairs, the press and the Internet, more people than ever understand that dental hygienists can save lives," said Standley. "Many people don't realize that for decades licensed dental hygiene professionals have been helping detect early signs of oral cancer, cardiovascular and other life-threatening diseases. Early signs of disease often appear first in the oral cavity."
As the official voice of the dental hygiene profession in the state, CDHA continues to promote the profession and its members as well as look out for access to quality care for the consumer.
"For 25 years we have advanced access to care and the delivery of quality dental hygiene services through continuing education, expanding scope of practice and by opening doors for Registered Dental Hygienists, and providing care to those who need it most," Standley said. "But we won't stop here - our goal is oral health care for every Californian by the time we reach our 50-year milestone."
The California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) is the authoritative voice of the state's dental hygiene profession. The organization was established 25 years ago when two regional associations merged to form a unified professional group. CDHA represents thousands of dental hygienists in California.