The practice of dental hygiene was developed to provide oral health education and preventive oral health care, originally for children. It has grown to provide oral health services valued by a broad spectrum of society, but has not attained the desired respect and status accorded to other professional groups.
Objective: Professional disciplines link actions of practitioners with the science that is the foundation of practice. The purpose of this paper is to examine whether dental hygiene practice could benefit from pursuit of development as a discipline.
Methods: Literature on professionalization and disciplines, related to dental hygiene in general and the North American context specifically, was retrieved from databases and grey sources, such as organizational reports. Dental hygiene's current characteristics relative to a discipline were examined.
Results: Dental hygiene has developed some characteristics of a discipline, such as identifying a metaparadigm that includes concepts of the client, the environment, health/oral health and dental hygiene actions, with a perspective that includes a focus on disease prevention and oral health promotion. However, research production by dental hygienists has been limited, and often not situated within theoretical or conceptual frameworks.
Conclusion: Dental hygiene draws its knowledge for practice from a variety of sources. Dental hygiene could strengthen its value to society by prioritizing development of highly skilled researchers to study interventions leading to improved oral outcomes, and transferring that knowledge to practitioners, strengthening links between practice and science. Intentional pursuit of knowledge for practice would lead to dental hygiene's eventual emergence as a professional discipline.