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History of Dental Hygiene in Alberta


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November 1, 2010, marks twenty years of self-regulation for dental hygienists in Alberta. In passing the Dental Disciplines Act in 1990, the provincial government acknowledged the education, the ability, and the professionalism of dental hygienists in Alberta. Alberta dental hygienists were among the first in Canada to be granted self-regulation.


Self-regulation is a delegated authority. This authority is only delegated by government when it is in the public’s best interest to do so and when the profession can demonstrate it has the resources, structures, and commitment to carry out these responsibilities. When professional self governance is delegated to an organization, the mandate of that organization must be to clearly serve the public interest.


The dental hygienist profession joins other health professions in Alberta that are regulated under the Health Professions Act. The Dental Hygienists Profession Regulation, under the HPA, is proclaimed in force effective November 1, 2006. Dental hygienists in Alberta can now work without the supervision of a dentist. This opens various opportunities for the provision of dental hygiene care to Albertans.



Dental hygiene regulations are currently being reviewed and redrafted under the Health Professions Act. The Alberta Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) is working with the Alberta government during these latest rounds of legislative discussions. We anticipate that these discussions will lead to legislation that will allow dental hygienists to utilize the full extent of their education within the scope of dental hygiene practice.



The ADHA supports the U of A Dental Hygiene program in its efforts to develop a degree program. As of September, 2000 U of A offers a Dental Hygiene Diploma and a BSc-Dental Hygiene Specialization route of study, as well as a degree completion program (post dental hygiene diploma). The University of Alberta Dental Hygiene Program is the first Canadian dental hygiene program to offer students a seamless progression from diploma to baccalaureate degree.



The Alberta Legislative Assembly passes the Health Professions Act (HPA) to regulate some 30 health professions. The dental hygienist profession, through the ADHA starts the process of being included under the HPA.



The ADHA delivers the first local anaesthetic program for Alberta dental hygienists. Delivery of local anaesthetic is added to the Dental Hygiene Program curriculum.



Eventually, after many starts and moratoriums surrounding the development of dental hygiene regulations under the Dental Profession Act, the Alberta government introduces a policy paper and bill that addresses dental hygiene registration and practice. In the fall of 1990, the Dental Disciplines Act is proclaimed and dental hygiene becomes a self-regulating profession in Alberta. The pursuant Dental Hygienists Regulation is passed in the winter of 1996.



By 1980, more than 300 dental hygienists are actively practicing in Alberta. At this time, local health units employ nearly 100 dental hygienists through the Dental Hygiene Public Health workforce. In 1984, the Dental Profession Act is passed, establishing a Dental Occupations Council. This council is to propose dental hygiene regulations pursuant to the Dental Profession Act.



Though the initial support for dental hygiene came from the public health sector, private sector support is growing. In the 1970s, with the advent of dental insurance employee benefit plans and public demand for preventive dental services, dental hygienists gain popular acceptance in the private dental office.


In his book about the history of dentistry in Alberta, Dr. H. MacLean, Dean of Dentistry, refers to a discussion of a degree program in Dental Hygiene. In 1974, a degree program in dental hygiene was proposed and the presentation to the Faculty Council of Dentistry was approved in principle. Funds to support the program were available through the Department of Advanced Education. The degree program was not implemented.


In 1960, the University and the provincial government reach an agreement that allows for an Alberta dental hygiene education curriculum. In January 1961, Ms. Margaret MacLean (nee Berry), is appointed founding Director of the School of Dental Hygiene, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Alberta.


The first graduating class of dental hygienists from the University of Alberta, a professionally active and dedicated group, sees a need for a provincial dental hygiene association. In the fall of 1963, they discuss the formation of an Alberta Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) and by December, a constitution and bylaws are approved to officially launch the ADHA.


Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Alberta Government examines the type of dental health service that it wants to offer in communities. It turns down a proposal for dental hygiene education in the mid-1950s by the University of Alberta's Faculty of Dentistry. Alberta's first dental hygienist, Ms. Joan Engman, obtains her dental hygiene education through a federal grants program. She studied dental hygiene in Michigan and returned to Alberta to practice dental hygiene in 1951.


The Alberta government passes dental hygiene legislation in the fall of 1951. In 1952, an Order-in-Council repeals this initial legislation, leaving the practice of dental hygiene unregulated for more than 30 years.


Dental hygiene's beneficial impact on public health in other jurisdictions gains recognition. In Alberta, Dr. Strong's suggestion is again raised. Following the Second World War, the Canadian government offers out-of-country training grants to anyone who will return to public health service after completing a dental hygiene program of study.



Dr. O. Strong first introduces the concept of the dental hygienist to Alberta in 1924. The idea did not immediately take root.