The practice of dental hygiene made its debut in North America in 1913 when a Connecticut doctor, Dr. AC. Fones, opened the the ﬁrst dental hygiene school in his garage. The ﬁrst graduating class consisted of 27 women. The beneﬁts of their work exceeded expectations – cavity rates among participating children were reduced by about 75 per cent.
In Canada, Ontario became the ﬁrst province to legally recognize dental hygiene with the amendment of the Dentistry Act (1911) in 1947. The ﬁrst dental hygiene program in Canada was offered at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry. Five students signed up for the two-year program which began in September 1951 with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Today, dental hygiene is recognized and practised worldwide – existing in more than 50 countries on six continents. In Ontario alone, there are close to 10,000 practising dental hygienists.
Over the years, the dental hygiene scope of practice has broadened. In 1947, dental hygienists were mainly responsible for cleaning and polishing teeth, giving instructions and demonstrations in oral hygiene and mouth care.
Today, dental hygienists not only clean teeth, they provide a process of care that involves assessing the oral condition, planning and implementing the treatment, and evaluating individual oral care programs. As registered health care professionals, they are responsible for the professional treatment that helps prevent periodontal (gum) disease and dental caries (cavities). In so doing, they make an important contribution to overall health.
Dental hygienists have a distinctive role to play as health care providers. They are important members of the oral health care team which includes dentists, dental assistants, preventive dental assistants, denturists, dental technicians, receptionists and oﬁice managers. Dental hygienists are distinguished by the pin they wear indicating they are regulated by the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario.
In 1994, 47 years aﬂer dental hygiene was ﬁrst regulated and controlled by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons, the government of Ontario recognized the professional status of dental hygiene and granted self-regulation to dental hygienists.
All dental hygienists in Ontario are registered with the College of Dental Hygienist of Ontario and must adhere to a code of ethics and standards of practice.