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Promoting Good Oral Health during National Dental Hygiene Month

by Lt. Cmdr. Keasha Myrick, Operations Director, Oklahoma City/Bemidji Areas Dental Support Center

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a time to highlight the commended work of dental hygienists by raising awareness of the importance of good oral health to our patients and communities. This year’s theme from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association is “Everyday Extraordinary.” This theme emphasizes the impact dental hygienists deliver within the dental clinics and throughout communities on a daily basis. Everyday Extraordinary describes the committed and dedicated services of approximately 450 dental hygienists within IHS, Tribal, and Urban dental facilities and within American Indian and Alaska Natives communities.

Dental hygienists focus on three oral conditions – tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. To reduce these conditions, we provide preventive measures such as dental prophylaxis (cleanings), dental sealants, and topical fluoride applications, along with patient education material of proper brushing and flossing techniques, healthy nutritional choices, and tobacco cessation options. Prioritizing prevention procedures within dental facilities and communities has helped the IHS reduce dental disease in tribal communities across the lifespan over the last few years.

Because oral health is essential to overall health, dental hygienists are an integral part of the dental and medical teams. Dental hygienists promote good oral health, not only through preventive procedures, but also as oral cancer screeners, educators, mentors, public speakers, health advocates, and listeners. Dental hygienists help patients understand the relationship between dental disease and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pregnancy complications, and other inflammatory conditions. As IHS Periodontal Expanded Function Dental Assistant educators and Health Promotion/Disease Prevention program managers, dental hygienists are essential in expanding access to dental care across the IHS.

Being a dental hygienist within the IHS allows dental hygienists to be “Everyday Extraordinary” by improving the oral and overall health of tribal communities every day.

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Lt. Cmdr. Keasha Myrick, Operations Director, Oklahoma City/Bemidji Areas Dental Support Center

Lt. Cmdr. Keasha Myrick has served as a registered dental hygienist for more than 19 years. She has been with the Indian Health Service since 2015, and joined the United States Public Health Service in 2017. Lt. Cmdr. Myrick earned her Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene from Clayton State University and her Doctorate of Health Science form Nova Southeastern University.