Authentic Learning – Environmental Oral Hygiene Part 1 – A Sustainable Approach to Whole Dental Health – Introduction and Intention

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It is Monday, 6th April here in New Zealand, and the world has changed and is now different place. The roads are quieter, the streets are empty, less the occasional dog walker and jogger, and the lockdown is solidly in place. An peculiar sense of calm is reinforced by the bird song outside, the environment and habitat seemingly swelling to fill the void of lost modernity. Ironically it is exactly this at the moment that has switched, we’ve been role reversed and we huddle, like our forefathers did in the Second World War to catch each and every news item, hoping for the time to be encouraged to come out of isolation, our Anderson Shelters we call home. The natural world appears to be benefitting from this hiatus of human activity too, far fewer cars and planes travelling the streets and airlanes, less emissions and, thankfully, less pollution too. The deadly epicentres of the COVID 19 impact, Italy, Spain, Wuhan and New York are experiencing significant improvements of air quality and, strangely too, wild animals, in some places, are seen visiting empty neighbours, once teaming with people.

The COVID 19 experience, from my own particular professional perspective, as a Registered Dental Hygienist, has created an eerily ideal learning opportunity, the time to complete a project I began over a year ago, reflect upon it and consider my options and choices regarding whether the economic and financial fallout post COVID 19 allows me to return to my clinical normality.

The project, called Whole Dental Health, began as an idea to implement professional development as part of a nine week career break between jobs and places. The journey, I called it an odyssey, some might have classed it as a sabbatical, took me to France, the UK and the States and demonstrated my learning activities, commensurate with my professional and personal values, clinical headspace and self-guided development, all written and published in blog form weekly. These can be found on http://www.wholedentalhealth.com in the menu bar, under reflections. Over thirty thousand words written and several hundred global views, continuing recently form the first part of a written and published trilogy that will encompass three stages of my present and ongoing developmental journey. The first was more nutritional and behavioural based, the second will consider and explore a environmental and ecological approach to dental hygiene, guided by my interpretation of clinical oral health delivery in my new dental practice blended with a more natural philosophy and approach to oral health and orthodontics. Finally, the honing all of these experiences and learning into a post COVID 19 dental health environment and clinical approach. Ultimately my question is whether it will change me personally and professionally in a more meaningful way as a Dental Hygienist or will necessitate a career change in health care elsewhere?

The choice of a story telling approach to the project is anathematic of authentic learning and action research. It is particularly indicated with explaining a process or a journey reflectively, where you guide your own learning based upon where you feel you have a need to improve or create new knowledge in particular subjects or matters within your work place. You become the self-directed learner, you empower your quest for it through a guided process, it being authentic and genuine as it is specifically applicable to you. You research, critically appraise, create and design ways in which you can test its validity, reflect upon those outcomes, change, implement or reset the parameters or if unsuccessful, try again in a different way. Creating new knowledge, in an open ended and critical way maybe seem by others in written words, like this, published and disseminated through social media platforms or presented to a professional audience of some kind. Both are a form of peer review and can be, by our colleagues, challenged, adopted or adapted for their own practice to the benefit of their clients.

Ironically, in this time of great global upheaval and change, comes to the New Zealand Dental Healthcare profession change as wel. This brave new learning world has the potential to seriously test and challenge the will, intentions and adaptability of all concerned. Traditionally continuing professional development (CPD) was historically regulated, via The New Zealand Dental Council (NZDC), in verifiable and non-verifiable formats where specifically set numbers of hours had to be completed, demonstrated through a portfolio of evidence if required by the council as part of an audit. These audits, conducted on about ten percent of the re registering dental body every CPD cycle, I feel, made the need to meet the expected numbers greater than conduct appropriate learning, essentially detracting from the real need for authentic, individual learning. So I was to my great surprise and delight that several weeks ago the NZDC announced the intention to restructure its current CPD cycle. In will come, as from next March, the new paradigm incorporating the creation of a Professional Learning Plan (PDP), designed Professional Learning Activities (PDA) and a formal personal peer relationship with some you can nominate yourself. The most interesting part of the new direction, however, was the need to undertake written reflection on the learning outcomes from PDA’s you have proposed and undertaken through you PDP, and this in turn, discussed with your peer reviewer and validated as such via an online portal.

The thought that hundreds of dental healthcare professionals undertaking work related, personally guided and relevant learning with the intent to write it up and it be reviewed may sound quite revolutionary to some, complicated and unnecessary to others. However it needs to be borne in mind this process is already done by many, especially clinical nurses, midwives and other allied healthcare workers. What this does demonstrate, in my humble opinion however, is that the New Zealand dental profession is finally catching up with allied healthcare professionals too, and that the good old days of mathematical calculations for gaining re registration has gone. There is no need for the numbers game anymore, just, I hope, the intention to gain quality self-directed education, appropriate to one’s workplace and associated practise and the need to authentically apply it into practice, reflect upon its process, modify, adopt or adapt this new knowledge creation and justify its purpose through critical reflection and appraisal. The need for the dental trade industry to get its grubby pores into it will hopefully diminish and, if continued, be more relevant to the clinical spaces of practices and not for greater profit. I for one can’t wait.

So, finally, over the next few weeks expect posts related to authentic learning and action research, future professional development, oral health related to systemic and metabolic health, diet and nutrition related to dental caries and periodontal diseases, the oral microbiome, fluoridation, saliva and pH, alternative antimicrobials ( in particular honey ), sustainability and the creation of a philosophy related to those.

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