Occupational regulation of health personnel is important to professional associations and their members, the public that relies on their services and the regulatory agencies responsible for their conduct. There is increasing interest in ensuring that dental hygiene regulation fosters the continuing evolution of the profession and its contribution to oral health. The keynote address for the 2007 Regulatory Forum on Dental Hygiene, this paper discusses the rationale for and issues pertaining to occupational regulation, outlines the evolvement of dental hygiene and identifies regulatory options for the profession. Professional regulation exists to ensure public safety, health and welfare. However, negative political-economic side effects coupled with environmental pressures have resulted in increased scrutiny for health professionals. One such profession is dental hygiene. Its evolution has been dramatic, in particular over the past few decades, as illustrated by its rapidly increasing numbers and broader distribution globally, gradual shift to the baccalaureate as the entry-level educational requirement and increase in postgraduate programs and expanding scope of practice and increased professional autonomy. Regulatory changes have been more gradual. Regulation is mandatory for the vast majority of dental hygienists. Of the options available, the practice act - the most rigorous type, is predominant. Globally, regulation tends to be administered directly by the government (n = 9 countries) more so than indirectly through a dental board (n = 4) or self-regulation (n = 3). Whether regulated directly or indirectly, dental hygienists increasingly are seeking a greater role in shaping their professional future. Self-regulation, its responsibilities, misperceptions and challenges, is examined as an option.