To date, research and theory development in dental hygiene have been largely sporadic and lacking in focus. Dental hygiene has begun to develop its body of knowledge by adopting a definition of the discipline and a structural hierarchy of knowledge that includes a global paradigm, conceptual model(s), and theory. By identifying major concepts and linking theory to an expanding knowledge base, dental hygiene can begin to evolve as a scientific discipline. Conceptual models and theories will characterize the uniqueness of dental hygiene and move it into collegiality with other professional disciplines. In the future, practitioners, educators, and researchers may adopt an organizational framework for dental hygiene. Doing so will enhance dental hygiene research, teaching, and client care. Most importantly, it will enhance dental hygiene's view of itself. This in turn will facilitate dental hygiene's continuing evolution toward professionalization.