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From halfway to wholehearted hygiene

April 7, 2021
In part two of this series, Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, suggests five steps to take on your path to practicing “wholehearted” dental hygiene.

Editor’s note: "Let's stop practicing 'halfway hygiene'" is part one of this series.

Empowered . . . valued . . . purposeful . . . fulfilled . . .

These are all words that “wholehearted” hygienists are saying about their careers. Wholehearted hygiene professionals have figured out how to move past the obstacles and create a career where they don’t feel like something is missing at the end of the day. So, what’s their secret? Can they just give us the blueprint, and then we can do exactly what they are doing so we’ll feel just as valued and fulfilled?

I wish it were that easy! The truth is, wholehearted hygiene is going to look different for each one of us. There is no step-by-step instruction book that will lead us to success. It’s sort of like if you got a bunch of hygienists in a room and asked them what the best instrument was for scaling mandibular anteriors. You’d hear H6/7, Nevi, Montana Jack, Boge 513, and more. Each clinician would be confident in their answer, and they would be right . . . for them. Each of us has uniquely shaped hands, different posture; we’re righties and lefties, and we have varying room setups. There are so many factors that go into how we feel about our favorite instrument. Our career paths are no different. So, what do we do?

Step one: Who are you?

What are your passions, drivers, and strengths? What makes your face light up and your heart sing? While some people can easily tell you their “why” like a well-rehearsed elevator pitch, that wasn’t something I could do. I thought something was wrong with me. Why did so many people seem to know their purpose? Why was I floundering with so many varied interests? I felt like a squirrel running from shiny object to shiny object.

Being self-aware is first. You really cannot “go” anywhere without self-​awareness. It is also important to have a desire to change, improve, or grow. While some of us want to change, we are also scared to death of it because change means, well, change. But what if it led you out of feeling defeated and into feeling excited? What if you could use the adjectives above to talk about your own career?

I had the opportunity to invest in myself over the break and take a deep-dive course into the DiSC personality assessment, Drivers, and Emotional Intelligence, with Corey Jameson-Kuehl, BS, RDH, of Custom Dental Solutions.1 She led a group of us on a journey of self-discovery. We looked at our unique personality styles (how we like to communicate and interact), our drivers (what moves us to action), and our emotional intelligence (our ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply our emotions to situations and people).

Understanding why I like some things and dread others helped me let go of a few of those shiny objects. I also learned how to say yes to the opportunities that would lead me to figure out my own “why.”

There are many assessments out there to get you started on your journey. Some are free, such as those on the DentalPost app, and others are not. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you shell out your hard-earned money. The last thing you need is another stack of papers you don’t understand. Investing in myself was a huge hurdle. I needed a little hand-holding.

Personality types don’t often change, but your emotional intelligence (EQ/EI) is something that you can really dig into and improve. Jameson-Kuehl says, “EQ is huge in the workplace, being able to reframe the way you look at coworkers, your boss, and situations around you really helps you ‘lean in’ to being in reality for job satisfaction.” Jameson-Kuehl also believes many people think the “grass is always greener,” and then they come to find out that people are people everywhere. Being aware of your own attitude is critical. The emotion you choose makes or breaks your feeling of fulfillment.

No assessment will explain everything about you. Unfortunately, your results will not come with a blueprint for lifelong bliss. Beware of analysis paralysis! Don’t get stuck in a circle of assessments, failing to get out there and try on opportunities.

Step two: Start owning your profession

As hygienists, many of us are so focused on caring for others that we let our own professional pride take a back seat. We fall victim to our circumstances and allow ourselves to feel like just a hygienist.

Well, we aren’t just anything. We are health-care professionals . . . prevention specialists. It’s time we own it.

When was the last time you looked at our hygiene oath?2 Knowing your oath can help remind you of the commitment you made to lifelong learning. When I interviewed Shavonne Healy, RDH, she suggested hanging the oath in your operatory. It’s a great reminder to yourself, your team, and your patients of the professional you are.

Brush up on your state laws. What does your practice act actually say? Did a law get passed recently? Are you missing out on an opportunity to see patients in a new way? Are there extra certifications you could be taking that will make your heart sing? Or is your dentist pushing you to do things outside your scope of practice? Being familiar with your state practice act will give you the confidence to work to the entire scope of your practice and draw that line when you are being pushed past it.

Let patients know the depth and breadth of your education. Kathryn Gilliam, RDH, founder of PerioLinks LLC, recommends not just telling patients what you learned at your latest course, but making them aware of the commitment you’ve made to them through continued learning. The more patients understand what we go through to stay on top of our ever-changing field, the more we elevate our profession in their eyes. Gilliam says, “It’s our job to get past the chitchat and move the conversation to whole-body health. This will help to elevate our identities in the eyes of our patients.” As a wholehearted hygienist, Gilliam’s patients look to her for their health and wellness—not just white teeth and a free toothbrush.

Step three: Find your hygiene homies

In our profession, it’s easy to get tunnel vision so that we only know what’s happening in our operatory. It’s not just about merely taking the minimum CE or checking the yearly OSHA box. It’s about understanding that in our oath we said we’d “render a full measure of service to each patient.”2 If we’re still doing hygiene the same way we were doing it 10, 15, 20 years ago, there’s no way that’s the full measure of service.

Get to know other hygienists, find out what they are doing and how they are communicating with patients. No one is an expert in everything. But when we come together, the puzzle pieces fall into place, and the picture looks much clearer.

During a podcast interview last month, my guest said she couldn’t work without a Nevi. After her passionate declaration, I ordered one, and I have to say . . . it’s an incredible instrument. There’s no way I would have ever known that if I wasn’t talking to other hygienists. I’d still be in H6/7-land because that’s what was in my kit in hygiene school 20-plus years ago. Talk about stuck in your op!

Dental conventions, study clubs, and professional association meetings are an excellent way to meet other engaged dental hygienists and expand your horizons. And, while social media has its pitfalls, it is a great way to crowdsource a topic or at least begin to learn whose thoughts intrigue you without having to leave your house (I’m looking at you, COVID). Look for people and groups that inspire you, feed your desire for knowledge, and reignite your passion for your career . . . and just scroll past the drama.

Then, reach out. I am regularly amazed that when I reach out to authors and lecturers, they actually respond! Part of the joy in being a hygienist is making a difference, and that doesn’t stop with our patients. Wholehearted hygienists want there to be more hygienists like them. So never be afraid to ask questions.

Step four: Stick up for yourself and communicate your needs

Understanding how to communicate with your office team and patients is key to getting your needs fulfilled. Conveniently, as you become well-versed in personality types and nurture your EQ, a lot of this will come with your new awareness, but it’s key to remember that no one can read your mind.

While it is imperative to learn how to recognize your needs and communicate them so that others can hear you, be sure not to overwhelm your team and patients with all of the things you’ve learned or want at once. It’s the same as handing a new patient an electric toothbrush, interdental brushes, a tongue cleaner, prescription toothpaste, a new mouthrinse, floss, disclosing tablets, and dry mouth lozenges and expecting them to incorporate all of it into their daily routine right away.

Figure out where you want to start. Is it taking some courses on periodontal classification? How about adding more time into appointments for a more thorough assessment of your patients? Is it bringing in a new piece of technology? What is the thing that will put you on the right path to practicing wholehearted hygiene?

When bringing a new idea or system into your practice, be sure to arm yourself with facts. How will this expensive new technology help patients and serve the practice? What can you accomplish with an extra 10 minutes of chair time? Perhaps you can set up a trial period for a new procedure and then revisit it in three months. Consider setting up some trackable metrics so you can show the impact the new system is making.

Remember to be flexible and give others time to see the impact your changes are making, or at least give them a minute to get used to one change before making another one! Change is hard for everyone.

Step five: Just do it!

Two quotes often go through my head as I walk into these scary places to assert myself and learn my “why”:

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” — Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh3

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” — Aibileen Clark to Mae Mobley, The Help4

Halfway hygiene is the idea that we know so many things as hygienists and can make such a difference, yet we’re still stuck in a decades-old hygiene model that doesn’t allow us to treat patients to the entire scope of our practice . . . and certainly nowhere close to what we’re capable of.

You, my fellow hygienists, are all of these things. Even more so, you deserve to live your life wholeheartedly—whatever that looks like for you individually. There are so many ways to make a difference in this world; no single path is the right one for everyone. Don’t wait until you know all of the details before you take your first step, because the big secret that no one tells you is, no one knows all the things. We learn as we go, and we rely on one another in our path to a wholehearted life. 


  1. Custom Dental Solutions home page. Accessed December 28, 2020.
  2. Mission and vision. Dental hygiene oath. Nebraska Dental Hygiene Association. Accessed December 28, 2020.
  3. Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin quotes. Accessed December 28, 2020.
  4. The Help quotes. Accessed December 28, 2020.

AMANDA HILL, BSDH, RDH, a practicing dental hygienist, industry educator, and key opinion leader, is passionate about the dental industry. She is a speaker, award-winning author, and host of Your Dental Top 5 podcast. A member of the advisory board for RDH magazine and OSAP’s Infection Control In Practice Editorial Review Board, Amanda strives to make topics in dentistry accurate, accessible, and fun! She can be reached at and [email protected].

About the Author

Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, CDIPC

Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, CDIPC, is an enthusiastic speaker, innovative consultant, and award-winning author who brings over 25 years of clinical dental hygiene and education to dentistry. Recipient of ADS’s Emerging Infection Control Leader award and an active participant with the advisory board for RDH magazine, DentistryIQ, and ADS’s Infection Control in Practice Editorial Review Board and membership committee, Amanda (also known as the Waterline Warrior) strives to make topics in dentistry accurate, accessible, and fun. She can be reached at [email protected].