History of the IFDH

The formation of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH) took place on June 28th 1986 in Oslo, Norway.

he initiative for this came from the International Committee on Dental Hygiene (ICDH) that was established in 1973 by a group of dental hygienists from Canada, Japan, Sweden, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom and the USA. Highlights of this period included:

  • Collaborative efforts to enhance the multicultural, multilingual Board environment;
  • Development of essential infrastructure (e.g., constitution and bylaws) necessary for successful functioning of the ICDH and IFDH,
  • Establishment of the triennial International Symposium on Dental Hygiene (ISDH) which exists to this day.

Their vision was to form an international organization that would unite dental hygienists globally. Wilma Motley, of the USA, led this initiative and was elected as Founding President in 1986.

Since that time the Federation has steadily grown in membership while providing a forum for the exchange of knowledge and resources. Other accomplishments would include:

  • Established a draft curricula for 2-3-4 year dental hygiene education programs,
  • Established an International Code of Ethics,
  • Established links with other global oral health organizations such as WHO, FDI and IADR,
  • Established a website,
  • Published a peer reviewed scientific journal The International Journal of Dental Hygiene and
  • Established itself as a source of reference and consultation regarding global dental hygiene.

One document of immense importance to IFDH and the profession of dental hygiene globally, is the International Profile on Dental Hygiene authored by Dr Patricia Johnson, IFDH Past President from Canada, who first conducted the survey in 1987 and has conducted three subsequent surveys in 1992, 1998 and 2006. The purpose of the profile was to develop and maintain a basic longitudinal database for the profession of dental hygiene worldwide. The data clearly documents the global trends in dental hygiene education, scope of practice and workplace settings and is regularly used as a reference by developed and developing countries. This and other documents such as the Code of Ethics can be viewed on the IFDH website www.ifdh.org

Over the 35 years The International Federation of Dental Hygienists has flourished and is a robust organization with 35 member countries representing over 92,000 dental hygienists worldwide. The Federation operates 5 programs enabling dental hygienists to participate in social responsibility projects and supporting research by dental hygienists. The Federation is present on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and shares information on its website and email links.

Highlights from Past Presidents

1986 – 1989: Wilma Motley (USA)

As the 1st President of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists Wilma Motley had been a very active member of the International Liaison Committee on Dental Hygiene. As an American Dental Hygienist, it was a proud moment for her when she, as IFDH President, attended the 65th Anniversary of the ADHA and commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the founding the profession.

An original goal of the IFDH was membership in Federation Dentaire International. During the first term of the IFDH, the FDI affirmed the Federation was eligible for Affiliate membership. As relationship building was very important to our founding members, this was a significant accomplishment. Another key goal was establishing a relationship with the World Health Organization and this was pursued during Wilma’s term.

The profession began to establish an international professional profile preparatory to assuming a strong leadership position in the international world of oral health. As in all new organizations the first years were periods of trial and error, however, it appeared that the lengthy planning for the IFDH formation was very thorough and only minor adjustments to our rules and regulations were required.

“Those who had worked so diligently to found the federation are justifiably proud of the progress made since it’s inception and are optimistic about what can be accomplished in the future in promoting and ensuring more and better oral health care to all people.” Wilma E. Motley, History of the International Dental Hygienists’ Federation.

1989 – 1992: Pat Johnson (Canada)

Highlights of my term align with our strategic plan for the 1989 – 1992 term – namely “to strengthen the Federation’s organizational, financial and administrative structures in order to undertake future mission- oriented projects” and secondly, “to enhance the image of the dental hygienist as a qualified and essential health care professional”. In 1989 there were 13 IFDH member nations: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom. By 1992, Columbia, Germany and South Africa had joined, achieving our first goal.

Regarding the second goal, strategies to enhance and promote the image of the dental hygienist, included liaison activities. For example, members of the Executive Council met individually and/or as a group, with the President and other officials of the Federation Dentaire International (FDI), World Health Organization staff, and several members and non member national dental hygienists’ organizations. The Board of Directors met with Dr. Barnes, Chief of the Oral Health Unit of the WHO in 1989 and in 1992. As President, I attended and presented invited papers at the 79th World Dental Congress, Session on Dental Hygiene in Milan in 1991 and the Korean Congress on Dental Hygiene in Seoul in 1992. Other strategies to promote the profession included the establishment of Life Membership, initially awarded to Wilma Motley as founding President, and the introduction of the quarterly publication “Contact International”. The 12th International Symposium on Dental Hygiene was held in The Hague in 1992 and once again enhanced the image of the dental hygienist.

On a more personal level, a key highlight of my involvement with IFDH has been the opportunity to work closely with colleagues from around the world – learning, sharing, promoting, endorsing, celebrating – in the interests both of dental hygienists and the greater public good. Thank you all.

1992 – 1995: Ruth Nowjack (USA)

During her term of office Ruth Nowjack believed in the further development of partnerships and relationships of the IFDH. As a researcher Ruth worked with many influential leaders in oral health and fostered relationships that would develop the global influence of dental hygienists. Ruth wanted the IFDH to be accepted by the World Health Organization as an associate member of the WHO. She led the IFDH with professionalism and pride.

1995 – 1998: Inger-Lise Bryhni (Norway)

IFDH entered the web in 1998! During my time of office, communication could be somewhat difficult compared with the facilities of today. We mainly had to communicate through mail and fax. But, not all of us had access to a fax machine and e-mail was not common. Then during 1998 we decided to enter the web and by the help of my husband and his technical team, we took the important step to reserve the domain “Ifdh.org” before it was taken by someone else. Then the website was set up with buttons and 5 pages with the information we found needed at that time. I served as webmaster for more than two years after my term as president had ended.

An Executive Secretary/Administrator was appointed in 1996. Another important issue was to set up a permanent address for the organization. In 1996 a paid secretary/administrator was appointed and the address was located in London. This was very much needed as the administration workload got larger every year.

1998 – 2001: Til Van der Sanden–Stoelinga (The Netherlands)

In my term of office, we had set three goals, namely:

  1. To strengthen the foundations of the Federation
  2. To improve communications and
  3. To be recognized as the International Resource on all dental hygiene related issues, both for members and non-members.

The term was very busy as we tied up loose ends in procedural and administrative areas. Communication was changing and we moved to the internet rather than fax and mail to reach our members. Reports were circulated on a regular basis with Contact International, the official publication of the IFDH at that time, keeping our member countries engaged. As President, I attended many association meetings all over the world to represent IFDH and to share its importance in our profession. We also renewed relationships with the WHO, the FDI and the IADR and our website was updated to current practice.

The IFDH committees developed standardised formats on different matters, such as a code of ethics and requirements for the 2, 3, and 4-year Dental Hygiene Programmes. Data collection was ongoing and special projects had been initiated, like the first Oral Health Promotion Day, which was carried out in 10 countries.

By the end of my term, the IFDH had 23 member countries. Looking back, it was a very intense period in which I saw a lot of the world and learned a lot. Also working together with my fellow officers was a great pleasure.

2001 – 2004: Kerstin Ohrn (Sweden)

The most important goals were the establishment of the International Journal of Dental Hygiene as a scientific journal focusing on dental hygiene and the adoption of a code of ethics for IFDH. This came to completion in Madrid in 2004 with the adoption of the Code of Ethics. Kerstin went on to be the editor of the International Journal of Dental Hygiene for years, stepping down, after a very successful term, in 2020.

2004 – 2007: Sue Aldenhoven (Australia)

Highlights of my term included celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Federation. The Sunstar “World Dental Hygienists Awards” was established and launched at the ISDH in Canada. We initiated discussions with FDI to pursue membership and liaised with the WHO to pursue collaboration. Our Board developed sponsorship packages for corporate support of our meetings and international travel. We also developed standardized PowerPoint presentations and promotional material for use by member countries to promote ISDH at their conferences and in their publications.

The Global Child Dental Health Taskforce was established and networked to member countries to pursue membership.

It was one of the great honours in my career to serve as IFDH President from 2004-2007. When I reflect on my term as President and the highlights that defined my term the most significant was my fellow Executive members. We were a cohesive and supportive team who shared a common vision to further the goals of IFDH.

2007 – 2010: Marjolijn Hovius (The Netherlands)

In this period, the board of the IFDH was made of dental hygienists from different countries (the USA, Australia and the Netherlands) who also had more than full-time jobs. We communicated by email and Skype and occasionally met, on average, once a year. Slowly but surely, we changed for being internally centred to externally focused. A highlight was the invitation by the World Health Organisation to participate in “Global Consultation: The Contribution of Health Professions to Primary Health Care (PHC) and the Global Health Agenda. Thus, the Global Health Professional Network of the WHO was created. WHO Member States are increasingly focusing on PHC as a means to achieve equitable, fair, affordable and efficient care.

The International Symposium on Dental Hygiene in Glasgow with the topic “Oral Health – New Concepts for the new Millennium” was a highlight. It contained new technology for preventing and treating oral diseases, including alternative treatments which was a very interesting theme.

Another highlight for me, was seeing the growth within the dental hygiene profession itself in that period, be it patient treatment, education, or research taking place all over the world. In my student days it was not even thinkable that a dental hygienist could become a full-fledged professor, do research, use other techniques than tell, show, do when treating a patient. It is amazing to see the flight it took and we are still growing and expanding.

2010 – 2013: Maria Perno Goldie (USA)

The term began in Glasgow, Scotland in 2010 and ended in Cape Town, South Africa in 2013. The Executive Council consisted of Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS, President; JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, PhD, President-elect; Catherine Waldron, RDH, PhD, Vice President; Leah Littlejohn, Treasurer.

The IFDH website was redesigned, with a blog within the web site of the IFDH BOT members. The new website included a resource that provides the thesis and contact details of PhD dental hygienists for professional networking incorporated into the Research Exchange menu option on www.ifdh.org. A leaflet was designed and printed to be used as a PR item for the IFDH.

The President and/or EC attended many meetings, including the 2nd North American/Global Dental Hygiene Research Conference, International Meeting of Dental Hygiene educators in Nepal, numerous dental hygiene associations, the European Dental Hygienists Federation (EDHF), World Dental Federation (FDI). While in Slovakia, the President and members of the Netherlands Dental Hygienists’ Association met with the Slovakian Minister of Health to further the cause of dental hygiene in that country.

The main focus of this term was to begin the process of registering the IFDH, as it was determined that the IFDH was never registered in any country. It was also decided that the IFDH needed a professional management company, as it would be a sign of growth for the IFDH.

A Task Force to Investigate Registration and/or Incorporation was appointed. The report of the task force included consideration of Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and the USA. At the HOD meeting, it was voted that Switzerland and the USA be considered for registration. The USA was finally selected, along with the firm of Anas Marketing and Management.

2013 – 2016: Joanne Gurenlian (USA)

During my term as President of IFDH, and thanks to the work of the board, delegates and Executive Director Peter Anas, we accomplished the goal of creating a Central Office in the United States of America. Originally, the delegates voted to create a central office in Switzerland. However, that proved to be cost prohibitive, both financially and personally, in that an officer would have had to relocate and live in that country. Our second choice was the USA and our Central Office has now been located in the state of Maryland, USA, since 2013. We also worked together, along with an attorney, to update our Constitution and Bylaws and policies and procedures documents according to US and the state of Maryland laws, and created our first policy statement that supported dental hygienists as health care professionals who are primary oral health care providers.

Additional key accomplishments included growth in the number of member countries, increased social media presence, our website being translated into multiple languages, the availability of research grants for graduate dental hygiene students, and for practitioners to participate in award programs and develop the Every Child Has a Toothbrush program to improve oral health and prevent oral disease. We also recognized the importance of social responsibility, a program that was in its infant stages and has unfolded significantly under the leadership of Presidents Watson and Jongbloed-Zoet and their boards. It is clear with each term, our association has grown and flourished, but none of our goals are realized without the dedication and passion that comes from our members and our corporates who support us.

2016 – 2019: Robyn Watson (New Zealand)

A highlight of my term was to participate in the launch of the Social Responsibility program and see the solutions to a myriad of projects to improve Oral Health in different countries, which were developed by IFDH colleagues. The ISDH was forced to relocate due to global political tensions and was held in Brisbane, Australia in 2019. The host committee did a remarkable job in a short period of time. The House of Delegates approved a motion to enter into discussions with the newly formed International Dental Therapists Organization to look at ways to work together to enhance global oral health.

Near the end of our term, the board met and under the direction of our Executive Director Peter Anas, who led a strategic planning session, which provided a comprehensive 5-year plan for oncoming boards.

I really appreciate all the opportunities I had to travel to meet and be inspired by colleagues in many parts of the world, especially now since we are so restricted. I enjoyed the Board meetings where the very hard working Executive Board was able to meet and discuss IFDH issues…we were so fortunate to meet face to face.

2019 – 2022: Corrie Jongbloed Zoet (The Netherlands)

We – the Board of IFDH and our Executive Director and his staff – started our term in 2019 with a strategic plan for the IFDH committees and a plan for a meeting in between the 3-annual international symposia: the Global Oral Health Summit and Leadership Conference in Barcelona, March 2021. Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic we had to change our plans and priorities. Our main concern was to investigate the Covid situation worldwide with a survey – the results even published in the NY Times – and to inform our members according to the WHO rules and regulations. This was one of 5 surveys of the Dental Hygiene profession, completed in the last three years, with more in process.

Despite the pandemic we managed to organize a virtual Global Oral Health Summit with a 3-hour pre-recorded session featuring influential worldwide leaders from WHO, FDI, ACFF, EOHP, IADR, EDHF and other stakeholders, followed by a 1.5 hour, round table, live chat. Addressing the global burden of oral diseases and how dental hygienists can contribute to resolve the burden of oral health diseases and their economic impact globally.

During ISDH2022 in Dublin, Ireland, we will continue our Global Oral Health Summit and discuss how we, dental hygienists worldwide, can contribute and implement the WHO Global Strategy on Oral Health. Being the key provider of preventive oral health care, we can make a difference!