Dental Hygiene Celebrates a Milestone

A lot can change in 50 years and for the dental hygiene program in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry that stands true.

23 September 2011

A lot can change in 50 years and for the dental hygiene program in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry that stands true.

The program celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend, giving graduates and former professors a chance to reflect on its evolution. Program director Sharon Compton is hosting the event and says she can't wait to hear from people who graduated in the first few years and are still working.

"I am really excited to have these people coming together to reminisce about where we've come in dental hygiene," said Compton, who is a graduate of the program. "As much as 50 may seem old to some, but really, 50 is quite young and I think we've accomplished a lot, and we've seen incredible progression in the education program as well as what our profession is now able to do."

Dental hygiene was primarily started to fulfill a need in the community-health sector of dental care, says Compton. Now hygienists are mainly seen in clinical practice.

"When the program began in 1961, there were only two practising dental hygienists in all of Alberta," said Margaret Berry MacLean, the first director and the driving force behind the creation of a dental hygiene program at the University of Alberta. "Now there are 1,500 graduates of the program in our province."

The need for hygienists keeps growing and the scope of their practice keeps expanding.

Take Compton's new program that sends students to long-term care facilities in Edmonton to provide much-needed oral examinations. The hope, explains Compton, is that these students will be inspired to expand their practice to include treating elderly patients in these facilities.

New this year for fourth-year students are two advanced practicum modules. One is in research, facilitated by Ava Chow, the other in hospital-based care and long-term care facilities, led by Compton.

"The future of dental hygiene will see people earn masters and PhDs in addition to the bachelor of science which we struggled for many years to get," said MacLean. "This will lead to greater diversity in employment."

And there is much more growth ahead, according to Compton.

"The research capacity is really very young in dental hygiene," she said. "It would be one very significant thing if at the 70-year reunion or 80 or 90 years, we would be looking back at how far we've come with making research contributions in the oral health field."

MacLean will be involved in the celebrations this weekend. For many currently working in the School of Dentistry, they remember their former director fondly.

"Mrs. MacLean was a very inspiring leader and a very strong woman," said Wendy MacKinnon, part-time clinical assistant professor. "She led by example and was ready to participate and help at any time."

The dental hygiene celebration is Friday night, and continues into Saturday along with the U of A's alumni weekend.

"I think it will be a really uplifting weekend," Compton said.


Watch the 50th Anniversary video