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Change is the only constant.

CDHA staff

The CDHA document, Dental Hygiene: Definition, Scope, and Practice Standards identifies one of the key responsibilities of a dental hygienist as that of "assuming the role of change agent."(1) Adopting a leadership role in managing change is further described as being a catalyst, solution giver, resource link, and process helper.

Canadian dental hygienists face dynamic and challenging times. Recent amendments in legislation in some provinces have resulted in the expansion and explosion of practice possibilities. This has underlined the professional need to develop these many opportunities to provide care for underserved populations. Our profession has entered an era of significant transformation and autonomy. Anyone involved in this period of innovation and evolution must of necessity become an agent of change.

Darby and Walsh (2) define change as the process of modifying or transforming an idea, event, individual, group or community. An effective change agent must be a visionary who is capable of promoting a different way of doing things by analyzing and integrating a number of challenging environmental factors. These are some of the important qualities of successful change agents:

* Creativity and a love of innovation

* The ability to inspire and work with others

* A sense of humour

* Common sense and the self confidence to use it

* A spirit of caring

One of the most complex responsibilities in managing change is that of identifying key stakeholders, helping them understand the benefits of the change, and persuading them to "buy in".

For example, the dental hygiene entrepreneur who wishes to implement a mobile service providing care to the homebound must have knowledge of relevant legislative, housing, social and economic issues, and community health agencies and resources, as well as an understanding of the business components that support success. The benefits of a proposed change must also be communicated to other organizations and professionals in order to encourage collaboration. Dental hygienists should, therefore, be prepared to become both members and leaders of multidisciplinary health care teams. Being part of an interdisciplinary team, sharing common health goals, can take the dental hygiene practitioner far beyond the limitations of the traditional operatory.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things--Niccolo Machiavelli, 15th century political philosopher.

As some resistance is an inevitable reaction to change, due consideration of the reasons for this opposition and the development of planned interventions to overcome it are critical to the change agent's role. (3) As dental hygienists know well, motivation is the key to implementing change. How often have we tried to establish an interest in improved oral health goals and practices with our clients? In order to produce a commitment to change it is necessary invoke both a rational and emotional response in others. Enthusiasm means that individuals will take risks and become fully committed to the new circumstances. Ultimately, we hope to influence attitudes and beliefs about what is possible.

Dental hygienists have few role models for implementing the emerging possibilities. It is therefore important for new entrepreneurs to look for mentors and develop expertise that will enhance their professional potential. In addition to the one-day workshops and online certificate program Independent Practice for Dental Hygienists, the CDHA plans to build a database of independent practice resources including a listing of members who have established their own practices. If you wish to be added to this list and are interested in communicating with other dental hygiene entrepreneurs contact Ann E. Wright, CDHA's Independent Practice Advisor, at

The College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario has prepared a site to link and publicize independent practice dental hygienists.

Hopefully, other provinces will follow this lead as increasing numbers of dental hygienists take advantage of emerging practice options. The evolution of the dental hygiene profession continues, with many new opportunities to provide quality oral care to the public. The role of change agent is critical for the development of these practice alternatives and to increase access to preventive oral health services.


(1.) Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Dental Hygiene: Definition, Scope and Practice Standards. Ottawa. 2002:3

(2.) Darby MI, Walsh MM. Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice. 2nd. ed. Saunders; Toronto. 2003:13

(3.) King C, Craig B. The Role of the Dental Hygienist as Change Agent. Probe; 1997;31(3):81-83
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Title Annotation:LIBRARY COLUMN
Publication:Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Previous Article:Forensic dentistry and dental hygiene: how can the dental hygienist contribute?
Next Article:CDHA helps dental hygiene leaders "Navigate the Imagination".

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