The first formal education and training of Oral Hygienists was introduced in 1972 following extensive debate and negotiations between members of the Dental Association of South Africa. Provision for this profession was made under the regulations of the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) until 1999, when the first Professional Board for Dental Therapy and Oral Hygiene was affected.
The profession of Oral Hygiene has evolved significantly in the last 15 years. Regulations defining an expanded scope of practice were promulgated in 2000 (Government Notice R1150 in Government Gazette 21736 of 17 November 2000) and amended further thereafter.
Apart from the initial set of procedures that an Oral Hygienist could perform, the scope was expanded to include the placement of temporary fillings as an emergency measure; temporary cementing of inlays, crowns and bridges; placement of glass ionomer cement on sensitive dentine or cervical abrasion lesions; placement of soft linings in dentures as tissue conditioners; taking of cytological smears; the administering of applicable local analgesia as appropriate to the profession of oral hygiene, and specified functions in orthodontics, for example, cephalometric tracings and the cutting of distal ends of arch wires.
In 2012, Independent Practice for Oral Hygienists was pronounced and was subject to specific conditions (Government Notice No. 35200, No. R266 of 30 March 2012). In 2013 the scope of practice for Oral Hygienists was further expanded. The current regulations (Government Gazette No. 39453, No. 605 of 26 November 2015) include sealant restorations; the application of vital tooth bleaching (whitening) techniques and procedures; the re-cementing of orthodontic retainers; the splinting of mobile teeth; the making of study casts to produce protective vacuum formed mouth guards; nutritional counselling; and tobacco cessation.
In order for Oral Hygienists to perform any of the expanded functions, formal education and training is required through an HPCSA accredited Higher Education Institution. Practising out of one’s scope is misconduct and is subject to legal inquiry and repercussions.