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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article May 2011- Origins of 'Hygiene'

Landen Living

May 2011

 

My hunch is that if I were to ask a random group of people to define the word ‘hygiene’ most of them would make mention of practices geared toward cleanliness.  In actual fact however, the word comes from ‘Hygieia’ the Greek and Roman goddess of health, daughter of Asclepius, the god of medicine.  And so it is that the word ‘hygiene’ first and foremost defines the science of preserving health.  Yes, concepts and procedures oriented toward cleanliness fall beneath the hygiene umbrella but so too do all things health related.  Hygiene involves all elements that influence physical and mental well-being; nutrition, shelter, clothing, sleep, exercise, love, purpose, recreation, work, etc. 

The concept of hygiene is foundational to the practice of dentistry on a number of health promoting levels.  The early years of dental science focused primarily on the eradication of dental disease and the restoration of damage left in the wake of the disease process.  In time however there came an evolution geared toward the prevention of dental disease.  It was during this transition that a new member was often added to the dental team.  It was 1905 when Dr. Alfred C. Fones, a Bridgeport, Connecticut dentist taught his office assistant to help his patients with matters related to the cleanliness of their teeth.  Dr. Fones understood even at this early age that clean teeth meant less disease of the teeth and gum tissues.   Today that specially trained dental assistant, Irene Newman is regarded as the world’s first Dental Hygienist! 

In 1913 Dr. Fones opened the ‘Fones School of Dental Hygiene’ in his garage.  Having assembled a respected and skilled faculty of volunteers Dr. Fones graduated 27 women that first year.  Most of his new Dental Hygienists were hired by the Bridgeport school system providing care for the student’s teeth. 

Ultimately Dr. Fones’ simple but visionary beginnings yielded significant change in dental health settings that forever enhanced the dental wedge of humanity’s hygiene/health.  While today’s Dental Hygienists can trace their roots directly back to Dr. Fones’ garage, they have morphed from that humble origin into skilled and essential professionals within the dental health care setting.  They are teachers, technicians, therapists, health givers, and wholeness restorers.  Through them and their work the collective spirits of Hygieia, Dr. Fones, and Irene Newman are alive and growing into the 21st century.  Within my dental care team, Sheri and Amanda wear the Dental Hygienists hats.  They are a gift to our team, our patients and HYGIENE! 

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