South African oral hygienists: their profile and perception of their profession and career.
The aim of the study was to determine a profile of the oral hygienists in South Africa, their views on the profession, work-place, and the practice of their career, which aspects of the work they enjoy and which are not enjoyable, their opinions on expanding duties for hygienists and which duties should be included, and their perceptions about the status and importance of oral hygienists vis-à-vis other health providers. A questionnaire was sent to every third registered oral hygienist and 47 per cent responded. The majority who responded were in the age group 20 to 39 years, had been in practice for less than 15 years, were married, qualified at the Universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch, and were employed in traditional practice. The larger proportion worked individually and practised from six to eight hours per day. They were happy with the training they received, believed their job was worthwhile, were satisfied with their careers and enjoyed a cordial relationship with dentists. Motivating, educating, assisting patients and communicating with people were the most enjoyable aspects of practice while procedures associated with the treatment of gingivitis and periodontitis and the poor response of patients to treatment were the least enjoyable. The majority preferred expanded duties for hygienists which should include elementary dentistry, local anaesthesia, minor extractions and emergency treatment and they also desired greater independence. Seventy-eight per cent felt that the public does not know what oral hygiene is. The status and importance of the profession were rated comparable to that of physiotherapists, qualified nurses, radiographers and dental therapists but significantly higher than dental assistants.