Reducing oral health disparities has been an ongoing challenge in Canada with the largest burden of oral disease exhibited in vulnerable populations, including Aboriginal people, the elderly, rural and remote residents, and newcomers. Dental hygienists are a unique set of professionals who work with and within communities, who have the potential to act as key change agents for improving the oral health of these populations. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore, from the dental hygiene perspective, the role of dental hygienists in reducing oral health disparities in Canada.
Dental hygienists and key informants in dental hygiene were recruited, using purposeful and theoretical sampling, to participate in a non-directed, semi-structured one-on-one in-depth telephone interview using Skype and Call Recorder software. Corbin and Strauss’s grounded theory methodology was employed with open, axial, and selective coding analysed on N-Vivo Qualitative software.
The resulting theoretical framework outlines strategies proposed by participants to address oral health disparities; these included alternate delivery models, interprofessional collaboration, and increased scope of practice. Participants identified variation in dental care across Canada, public perceptions of oral health and dental hygiene practice, and lack of applied research on effective oral health interventions as challenges to implementing these strategies.
The research confirmed the important role played by dental hygienists in reducing oral health disparities in Canada. However, due to the fragmentation of dental hygiene practice across Canada, a unified voice and cohesive action plan is needed in order for the profession to fully embrace their role.