Focusing in the ever-changing profession of dental hygiene
by KEVERLY SUDGEN, RDH
"What's Love Got to Do with It?" is the title of a song performed by Tina Turner, and it was Turner's most successful solo single. In 2012, this single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Depending on your age, you may remember the tune and the lyrics, and you may have seen the movie about Turner's life. The successful single heralded Tina Turner's return to music after overcoming an abusive relationship with her husband, and several failed attempts at a comeback.
What does this have to do with the dental hygiene profession? Dental hygienists are now faced with many challenges in an ever-changing profession. Many of us have had to examine our motivations and ask ourselves what keeps us going. We all have financial expectations and family commitments. I've asked myself this question on hundreds of Monday mornings, and the same reply prevails. The answer is love. We love our patients, we love our profession, and we love science and new technology. This motivation, this love, keeps us going.
Many dental hygienists today are faced with pressures to produce, perform, and stay focused. Dentists and dental management corporations expect maximum return on investment at all times. Dental hygiene departments are considered a vital portion of a thriving dental practice. Dentistry is a business and productivity is the bottom line. So how does one stay focused? The answer is maintaining a passion and focus on what is important, and that is your patients in the chair and your love and concern for their health. When hygienists focus on patients and their needs and concerns, production and job satisfaction always follow.
Love for our patients
Hygienists are in a unique position to be practice developers and promoters. We see return patients every three, four, and six months. We develop lasting, important relationships and connections with our patients, and they trust us to give them correct and unbiased information about their dental health. Often, patients ask us about the treatment that the dentist recommends, and they ask us for referrals on products and procedures. The commitment we have to our patients' health is reflected in their loyalty to the dental practice. How many of us have seen our patients through life-changing events and the effects these events have on their oral health? Patients appreciate our concern, and they refer new patients if we show them we really are passionate about them and our profession.
Every patient deserves a thorough update and evaluation on their health history. The best way to keep your patients safe is to delve into their health history before every visit. Ask them about changes, new medications and procedures, and follow up with any medical providers when needed. Always take a blood pressure reading before beginning treatment. Explain to patients how their medical history is connected to their dental health and treatment. This concern and commitment strengthens patients' confidence in you and the practice. Often we see patients more frequently than the dentist does, and all new medical information must be documented properly in writing in a certain location on the chart. A patient's health and safety always come first!
Hygienists need to examine and research the sterilization and safety procedures that they use daily. Crosstex (www.crosstex.com) manufactures sterilization, protection, and safety products in the U.S. Educate yourself on current OSHA requirements, and make sure you're keeping a sterile and orderly workplace. Your patients are a lot more observant than you realize. They will appreciate your commitment to their safety.
Every patient deserves a thorough oral cancer screening. Magnification loupes and lights are essential in performing a thorough oral cancer screening. Companies such as Orascoptic offer discounts and payment plans to hygienists. Many practices use other oral cancer screening aids such as VELscope and ViziLite. Always explain to patients the reasons for doing the oral cancer screening at every appointment and the importance of these regular screenings. This is just another reason for patients to have confidence in you, and another way to reiterate the concern you have for their health.
Every patient deserves a periodontal examination and charting at every visit. Periodontal screenings and charting allow us to monitor changes in a patient's oral health. Patients expect to "hear their numbers," and this is a great way to connect them to their disease. If you're not performing thorough periodontal screenings, you're setting yourself and the practice up for huge legal liability. The No. 1 priority for a hygienist is to treat patients' oral conditions. Show your compassion and concern for patients by monitoring and helping them manage their periodontal health.
Every patient deserves to have as painless an experience as possible. There are a few simple things that can be done to minimize discomfort for patients, and these are efficient instruments and topical anesthetics. We all have our favorite dental instruments, and sometimes we have a favorite manufacturer. It's important not to get stuck in a rut. Try out new instrument designs and technology by sampling instruments at conference exhibit halls or from your local representative. American Eagle Instruments offers some of the most cutting-edge technologies and instrument designs in the industry. XP Technology instruments offered by AEI do not need to be sharpened, and are thin enough to use in any periodontal scaling situation. These instruments are very efficient and will drastically cut your scaling and increase your productivity. Take a look at their website at www.americaneagleinstruments.com, and test a few of their designs. My coworkers and I love these instruments, as do our patients.
One of my favorite liquid anesthetics that has come back to the market in newly designed packaging is Cetacaine Topical Anesthetic Liquid Kit. The liquid anesthetic is a combination of tetracaine hydrochloride, benzocaine, and butamben. It is rapid onset, and it is 30 minutes in duration. It's a very effective topical anesthetic and much less costly than many competitors. Give this a try, and hopefully you and your patients will love it.
Every patient deserves a personalized caries screening and assessment. Caries management by risk assessment, CAMBRA, is one of the methods used to assess and quantify treatment options for patients. The focus is on early intervention and managing and preventing caries. Many products are designed for screening and treating caries. Investigate new technologies such as the CariFree system (www.carifree.com) and learn about new products for caries prevention and screening. Xylitol is now used in many products, from fluoride varnish to rinses. Xylitol is a natural sugar substitute that can inhibit plaque growth and help keep an alkaline environment in the mouth. Xlear Inc. has a full line of xylitol products that have the highest concentration of xylitol in any dental products. Spry Dental Defense System is a great addition to your preventive product lineup. Your patients will appreciate your up-to-date knowledge of preventive products and technologies.
Love for our profession
Dental hygiene is an awesome profession. We get to connect with patients regularly, learn about their lives, and help them stay healthy. We are the health and prevention advocates of the dental profession. The best way to stay passionate about your profession is to become involved in your local community, and in your local, state, and national dental hygiene associations. Networking and learning opportunities within the various hygiene associations help you stay abreast of legislation, products, and technologies.
Mentoring and supporting other hygienists and aspiring dental professionals is a great way to represent your profession. Get involved in your community and promote oral and general health.
Read your dental online and print journals. There is so much information out there about the dental industry, new products, theories, research, and technologies. Staying current will help bust boredom with your profession, and will also allow you to wow your patients and employer.
Love for science and new technologies
We all have our absolute favorite products, and we choose products that help our patients and make our lives easier. The dental products industry is dynamic and ever changing. There are so many new preventive products that can help patients manage their oral health. The best way to evaluate products is to look at research, search product and professional websites, and try new products for yourself. Theories about dentistry and management of dental diseases are evolving.
Here are a few of the latest trends in dentistry:
Nanotechnology — Nanotechnology deals with manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale. The scientists in this field incorporate organic chemistry, molecular biology, quantum physics, and microfabrication. Nanotechnology has been used in manufacturing dental implants and other dental devices and is now used in the design of preventive products. VOCO is a leader in dental nanotechnology and offers innovative preventive products. Remin Pro is a remineralizing cream that combines xylitol, hydroxyl apatite, and fluoride. ProFluorid L is a fluoride varnish that has xylitol and comes in many flavors.
Probiotics — Dental hygienists are on the frontline in periodontal disease codiagnosis and management. Our training allows us to see subtle changes in our patients' periodontal health. We connect physical and dental health and treat patients as a whole and help them to manage their disease. We all know about the probiotics that are in yogurt for digestive health. Oral probiotics promote periodontal and dental health by doing the same thing in the mouth. They create a healthy balance of bacteria and help patients manage dental disease. Oragenics, www.oragenics.com, is one of the leaders in probiotic research with ProBiora3, a patented blend of bacteria in EvoraPro. These mints are to be taken twice daily after brushing, and the good bacteria will crowd out the bad bacteria to promote oral health, whiten teeth, and freshen breath.
Sunstar Butler offers PerioBalance, a probiotic that is also used for treating periodontal disease. Sunstar Butler has many innovative oral hygiene products. Soft-Picks are awesome for patients who have tight contacts and who do not always floss regularly. Patients are also raving about Sunstar Butler's Go-Betweens. These are portable brushes in various sizes that patients can carry anywhere and use anytime to remove interproximal bacteria.
Salivary diagnostics -- We all know that periodontal disease is caused by bacteria and host response, and that there is a genetic component to the disease. Now there is chairside salivary diagnostic testing for periodontal pathogens and genetic markers. OralDNA Labs offers MyPerioPath, a simple salivary test that's for specific periodontal bacteria in a patient's mouth. MyPerioID PST can also be used to assess individual genetic risk for periodontal disease. Patients are impressed with this testing and your individualized approach to their dental care.
A noninvasive method that can be used to moderate periodontal disease is the PerioProtect method. It uses clear plastic trays with areas to add in medications that are specifically prescribed and designed to manage periodontal pathogens.
Minimally invasive dentistry -- The new science of minimally invasive dentistry means not drilling and filling, but practicing prevention. There are diagnostic tests for saliva flow and salivary pH offered by GC America, which makes MI Paste, a remineralization inducing product and fluoride varnish with xylitol, and also fluoride-infused sealants.
Many companies offer fluoride varnishes, some containing xylitol, and each dental manufacturer offers their own brand of preventive pastes and gels. Hygienists should research and try them out to decide what works best in their practices.
So, next Monday morning when you're preparing for work, ask yourself, "What's love got to do with it?" I assure you that your day and week will be much brighter when you really take love to heart and treat your patients with love. RDH
KEVERLY SUGDEN, RDH, BASDH, is an author, speaker, and practicing dental hygienist. She has published articles on group practice management and MI dentistry. Keverly is a member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and works with local legislators on access to care for children. She has written a training program for large group dental practices and has organized corporately sponsored continuing education courses for dental hygienists. Keverly can be contacted at KeverlySugden@yahoo.com.
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