Celebrating 60 years of dental hygiene

The University of Alberta’s dental hygiene program is celebrating its diamond jubilee this fall.

Tarwinder Rai - 30 November 2021

The University of Alberta’s dental hygiene program is celebrating its diamond jubilee this fall.

A program that’s humble beginnings are deeply rooted in the dental landscape of Alberta, first opened its doors under the program’s founding director Margaret Berry in 1961. Today, the program is known as a national leader in dental hygiene education. Graduates are involved with providing oral health care to diverse populations in various settings advancing their education through graduate studies enabling them to be involved in academia, research, and industry.

“I am so proud of our education program and how it has significantly evolved over the years. I am proud of how we are preparing dental hygienists to apply their education and practice to address oral health for people from many different contexts,” says Sharon Compton, professor and associate chair of the dental hygiene program at the School of Dentistry. “There have been many people who have contributed to the development of the dental hygiene program which benefits our graduates and ultimately, the oral health of Albertans and beyond.”

The program that began accepting 20 to 42 students in its origins, today has graduated more than 2000 students. The program is now a degree-only program and the dental hygiene master’s program launched in 2014 – a first of its kind in Canada. Graduate students are building a research base that is focused on creating and translating knowledge to advance dental hygiene practice for better oral health care access and services.

“For more than 50 years, graduates completed a condensed program of students culminating in a diploma in dental hygiene. As advances and changes in oral health care arose and with changing demographics of Canadians, the program needed to add more content to the diploma; however, the additional content further increased the intensity of the program,” says Compton. “Therefore, in 2017, the program shifted to a degree program that allowed the 2 years of dental hygiene content to be distributed across 3 years. All students complete a preprofessional year of courses prior to entry to the program that includes three years of dental hygiene specific courses.”

The landscape of the dental hygiene profession has also changed drastically over the past 60 years, but alumni can still remember some of the great changes they experienced as students – making the program 60 years young.

Alumni remember

Dental hygiene clinical professor Janice Ritchie (DH ‘72) remembers her class was the first class to start wearing a pant suit.

“Until then we wore dresses as our uniforms,” says Ritchie. “We could now sit to treat our patients.”

Ritchie, like many, say the biggest change over the decades has been the move from the old dentistry/pharmacy building into the Kaye Edmonton Clinic.

“I trained on equipment from another era,” says Ritchie, not just referring to dental equipment but the
incorporation of computers. “They added another layer to our function.”

The future of dental hygiene

“With baccalaureate education as the foundational preparation of dental hygienists, we feel our graduates are well situated to contribute to addressing the oral health of Albertans and beyond. Additionally, as our graduates pursue advanced education, conducting research and contributing to advancements in the oral health care field, we envision a future where there is increased access to oral care for all,” says Compton.