Denise M. Bowen, RDH, MS

Denise M. Bowen, RDH, MS

Denise M. Bowen, RDH, MS, is a graduate faculty member and professor emeritus in the Department of Dental Hygiene at Idaho State University (ISU) in Pocatello. She has served as a consultant to the dental industry; numerous government, university, and private organizations; and as a member of the National Advisory Panel for the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research.

Bowen is dedicated to furthering dental hygiene research. She authors the column “Linking Research to Clinical Practice” in the Journal of Dental Hygiene and is the co-editor of the upcoming fifth edition of Darby and Walsh’s Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice. With expertise in nonsurgical periodontal therapy, oral self-care, research methodology, and dental hygiene education, Bowen has written more than 50 refereed journal articles. Her greatest achievements have been in mentoring colleagues and students in research and scholarly work for more than 35 years and helping to build the ISU Department of Dental Hygiene to one of national and international prominence. She has served as thesis advisor for 18 graduate students at ISU, 15 of whom published their research in refereed journals. Bowen is a member of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene’s Editorial Advisory Board.


What do you think are the most important steps to furthering the field of dental hygiene research?

A profession’s research is intertwined with its service role. The quality of care dental hygienists deliver can be enhanced by the research supporting it. Much of the body of dental hygiene research has been composed of isolated research studies not based in theory. We need to develop theories and comprehensive research programs that answer questions fundamental to the dental hygiene discipline, while engaging other disciplines. Our profession and its practitioners need patient-oriented or population-based findings focused on the prevention, treatment, and control of oral disease. We need data documenting the cost-effectiveness of our care and our impact on access to care. These issues are much more important than dental hygienists’ perceptions of their roles and responsibilities. Even the small-scale studies we conduct need to design and foster large scale projects to positively impact oral and total body health. The World Health Organization describes health care as a humanistic transaction between the health care professional and patient, with the patient’s welfare being the ultimate goal. In that vein, we must stop studying ourselves as the population of interest.

While I believe innovative PhD programs in dental hygiene are critical to advancing disciplinary knowledge, they are only one part of what is needed to build the next generation of scholars. My passion always has been teaching and mentoring others in research. Our first PhD program(s) must be housed where the infrastructure and expertise exist to support the work of emerging dental hygiene scientists. The dental hygiene faculty mentors must have their own successful research programs to promote the perseverance required for sustained research efforts that build knowledge central to the discipline. Finally, as scholars and practitioners, we have to be open to challenges and relish the new experiences that allow us to grow.

What research project has been most meaningful to you to date?

My most meaningful research project was my first—studying the impact of the phase contrast microscope on patient motivation for self-care—because it sparked my lifelong interest in research. My major role in research for many years now has been mentoring colleagues and graduate students in research, so all of those experiences have been significant to me. Most recently, I have been involved in theory analysis and development. This work is essential to the future of research and scholarship in our discipline, which has been exciting for me.

What developments do you foresee for the profession of dental hygiene over the next 100 years?

Optimistically, I foresee dental hygienists providing direct patient care in a variety of settings and working interprofessionally with other primary care providers to address the link between oral and systemic disease. This vision is why I encourage dental hygienists beginning their work in research to focus on the outcomes or benefits of dental hygiene care in a variety of settings—with different populations, and with other healthcare professionals. At present, the graduate students who I am co-advising are examining our ability to impact care coordination to improve medical-dental integration in community centers, our role in helping foster children with transition plans for oral health as they approach emancipation, and determining our needs as professionals for identifying, communicating, documenting, and referring victims of domestic violence for needed assistance.

What role has mentoring played throughout your career?

My mentors shaped my career, no doubt. Early on, Michele L. Darby, RDH, MS, served as my major advisor in graduate school, and we continued our friendship and scholarly work together from that point forward. A bit later, I was privileged to work closely with Margaret “Peggy” M. Walsh, RDH, MS, MA, EdD, in a variety of scholarly endeavors for many years. At present, I hope to honor their legacy by serving as co-editor of the Darby and Walsh Dental Hygiene: Theory and Practice textbook while mentoring and collaborating with Jennifer A. Pieren, RDH, MS, as co-editor. We are very excited about the changes planned for the 5th edition.

Has your research impacted the way you view the world, even when not directly pertaining to oral care and/or dental hygiene?

Research has changed the paradigm I am able to use to view the world. Each experience adds a new, broader viewpoint. An analogy would be to look at the mountains through rose-colored glasses vs. yellow-tinted glasses, then to travel to the beach and use those same lenses or others. Things appear differently as you open your mind and embrace different views of the world. Over time, your life is more interesting and richer because you can see issues, places, and situations in different ways and continue to learn every day by expanding your horizons. Researchers also gain wisdom and resolve with every project, and those insights help in many life circumstances that require critical thinking and tenacity.