It's that time of year

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Most of us spend the last few weeks of every year scurrying around to purchase gifts, attend holiday events, visit with friends and family, and wrap and unwrap presents. While it is a happy time for many, it can also be physically exhausting and financially draining.

In the clinical setting, we focus on providing the best possible clinical care to the patients we serve. Each one of our clinical settings is unique. Yes, we all treat patients, but some of us are fortunate to have a lot of input or control over the treatment time frame, services we render, equipment and supplies we work with, and the pace of the day. Others work in practices that do not allow as much flexibility and creativity. While most of us derive great satisfaction for doing a job well and enjoy the company of our patients, all of this is not without a toll to our bodies and minds.

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Other articles by Guignon:

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We are givers by nature, so the act of giving to ourselves or being the recipient of a gift does not come as second nature. Most of us have to work at this. If we don't, we're on a fast track to burn out. Given that this is the season for gift giving, I propose that you make an active decision to do something for yourself beyond the activities and essentials that you currently do.

Right now, I can hear the whispers. "What is she thinking? I'm too tired. I don't have the money. There is nothing that I need. My kids come first. I don't have time."

OK, hush up and please listen.

Let me give you a few examples of how I've made this plan work in my life. My initial training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dental Hygiene in 1968 was identical to how Irene Newman learned to become a dental hygienist. My classmates and I wore white dresses and caps, stood while we scaled teeth with skinny-handled hand instruments and polished stain off with porte polishers. We didn't wear gloves, masks or jackets. All of the chart entries were in pencil in paper charts. There were no digital radiographs, and fluoride treatments were tedious and tasted terrible. During my tenure at UMKC, we started sitting, and power scaling and panorex radiographs were just entering the market.

But the advances came slowly. I, along with many of my classmates, started getting hurt. Within a decade after graduation, my body rebelled. I started waking up in the middle of the night with kinks and strange feelings in my right elbow, numbness and tingling in my right hand. My neck was stiff and my shoulders were sore.

It was nearly impossible to get new instruments. The power scaler in the office was a torture device perched on a pull-out shelf at the furthest point on the bottom of the cabinet, the polishing handpiece weighed 9½ ounces and was attached to a heavy, coiled air hose.

Personal circumstances dictated that I work a full week. My family dismissed the rigors of clinical practice. While I loved the patient connection, felt proud of the care I was delivering, the physical and mental strain of dental hygiene was taking a toll.

Gradually the light bulb in my head went off. The solutions were within my grasp (pun intended). If I wanted to continue to practice, I had to be my own advocate. Taking ownership seriously changed my professional career. The first step I took was purchasing larger-diameter hand instruments. It did not take very long to get hooked on taking care of myself physically. For years, I temped and took all of my own equipment, including gloves, masks, prophy angles, and polishing paste. Today, I own my loupes, light, saddle chair, and manually tuned power scaler and inserts -- an approach that works well for me in the clinical setting.

During my travels around the country, I've learned to treat myself by taking a few hours to enjoy the local culture, drive to a national park, take a nap, enjoy a sunset, or see a Broadway show. One of the greatest joys is getting to meet so many wonderful hygienists all over the country and share stories and laughs. The emotional gifts that you have shared are amazing.

There are hundreds of ways that we can give back to ourselves. Some just want some alone time. Others take naps. Some go shopping. Others like to travel, cook, exercise, watch a movie, quilt, or spend time with children and grandchildren.

Many of us want a safer, less stressful work environment, and are willing to purchase equipment that makes it easier to care for people. There are no right or wrong answers in this plan. The point is to figure out what works in your world and map out a way to recharge your physical and emotional batteries and create your own personal comfort zone.

Happy holidays!

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.

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