Courtney Vannah, a student in the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene program, was recently cited in the Journal of Epidemiological
The article, “Educational
Deficiencies Recognized by Independent Practice Dental Hygienists and their
Suggestions for Change,” explained that Maine Independent Practice Dental
Hygienists (IPHs) were not adequately prepared for careers beyond the private
practice dental model from their standard undergraduate dental hygiene
As a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of New
England Portland, Maine teaching a course on Community Health, Vannah explained
that Maine was an interesting case study.
“8 out of 16 counties are entirely designated as dental
shortage areas and the remaining counties have at least some localized areas of
dental shortage designation,” she said.
“In addition to the
existing deficit of dental services in Maine, large numbers of dentists are
expected to retire in the next 10 years with twice as many dentists retiring as
graduating,” Vannah said.
“Maine is one of the first states
in the country to allow Independent Practice Dental Hygiene. Whereas
independent practice is still not “mainstream,” dental hygiene education hasn’t
molded around this new model yet,” she said. “As scopes of practice evolve such as
they are here in Maine, we can serve to shine the light on what also needs to
evolve in education to keep pace.”
In the article, Vannah outlined areas necessary for further
preparation including increased exposure to alternative settings and
underserved populations in addition to elective courses for students interested
in alternative practice and business ownership.
“The responsibility to prepare students for business
ownership and independent practice may not lie entirely within the basic dental
hygiene curriculum, but as the field of dental hygiene changes so dramatically,
there is a responsibility for programs to adjust their methods to align with
these emerging priorities,” Vannah said.
Following this research, Vannah created a course called
“Career Opportunities in Dental Hygiene” which she said has quickly become the
most popular elective
“Students routinely cite the course as essential and
invaluable to their future careers,” she said.
Vannah explained that she decided to attend the Master in
Dental Hygiene program at UTHSCSA because it was the only program that merged
her two passions: education and public
“Educating students for the future of our profession is my
passion,” she said. “UTHSCSA prepared me well for this opportunity and
positioned me exactly where I needed to be to chase my dream of being a public
health dental hygiene educator.
Courtney E. Vannah, MS, IPDH, is a Visiting Assistant Professor
at the University of New England Portland, Maine and graduate of the University
of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.