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National Dental Hygiene Month: A time for career innovation

Sept. 25, 2023
In this series, the ADHA celebrates “Everyday Extraordinary” dental hygienists like you. In part 1, learn about the power of innovation and 5 ways you can jump-start your hygiene career.

Editor's note: Erin Haley-Hitz is the current ADHA president-elect. Learn more about Erin's journey and career.

Every October, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) celebrates our profession with National Dental Hygiene Month (NDHM), sponsored by Colgate for the fourth consecutive year. The NDHM theme for 2023 is celebrating “Everyday Extraordinary”—dental hygienists everywhere who transform everyday tasks with extraordinary expertise. Together, ADHA and Colgate are offering free webinars, podcasts, and great content all month long, focusing each week on a different topic: innovation, education, community service, and advocacy.

Innovation is that dynamic force that propels society forward, urging us to explore uncharted waters and discover new ways of solving problems or making a meaningful impact. From innovative careers and solutions to product development and new approaches, it drives the potential to transform our lives and the world around us.

As we journey through our careers and lives, we all have the potential to be innovators, to craft paths that blend our passions with our profession and, in doing so, make a lasting impact on our communities and industry.

My journey to career innovation

I discovered my innovative opportunity by finding a way to merge my passion for oral health with my desire to empower and educate others. Traditionally, the role of dental hygienists was confined to the walls of a dental clinic, primarily focused on maintaining clean teeth. But I yearned to do more, reach more people, and transform lives beyond providing dental hygiene services.

My first step toward innovation was one of self-discovery. As I took time to reflect on my interests and values, it became clear to me that my true passion lay in a broader realm of health education and community engagement. I aspired to inspire others to prioritize their oral and overall well-being, recognizing that oral health is intricately linked to overall health.

To embark on this journey of innovation, I immersed myself in the world of dental health education and advocacy. I became an active ADHA member, attending seminars, webinars, and conferences and continuously updating my knowledge and learning from others. Through these experiences, I forged a leadership pathway in ADHA, where I expanded my horizons and realized that innovation often emerges at the intersection of different disciplines.

A key aspect of my journey was collaboration. I began working with dental product manufacturers and key opinion leaders. These collaborations sparked innovative ideas and approaches to tackling everyday challenges clinical hygienists face and want to solve. By working with professionals from diverse backgrounds, I gained fresh perspectives that enriched my work and expanded my capacity to create meaningful change.

5 tips to innovate your dental hygiene career

For those who aspire to blend their passion and profession innovatively, here are some words of advice:

  1. Start with self-reflection. Take time to look inward and identify what ignites your passion. Understand your values and the impact you want to have on your chosen field.
  2. Continue to learn. Stay curious and never stop absorbing new information. Seek opportunities for professional development and explore skills that could complement your expertise within the clinical space.
  3. Collaborate! Innovation is often sparked through working with others. Don't hesitate to partner with professionals from different backgrounds to bring fresh perspectives to your work.
  4. Embrace technology. In the digital age, technology can be a powerful tool to amplify your work and connect with patients. Digital dentistry, innovative products, and software can also enhance clinical procedures and improve patient experiences.
  5. Be patient and be persistent. Innovation takes time and discovery, and success rarely happens overnight. Stay committed to your vision and adapt as needed along the way.

My journey from a dental hygienist to an innovative preventive oral health specialist is a testament to the endless possibilities within reach. By aligning passion and profession, seeking new knowledge, and fostering collaborations, anyone can find their innovation opportunity and create a lasting impact on their chosen field and community. This serves as a reminder that innovation is not limited by our titles but limitless through our determination to make a difference. Doing so can drive positive change and contribute to a healthier, more informed society.

About the Author

Erin Haley-Hitz, MS, BSDH, RDH, FADHA, MAADH

Erin Haley-Hitz, MS, BSDH, RDH, FADHA, MAADH, is a licensed, practicing hygienist with 28+ years of experience from Lincoln, Nebraska. Haley-Hitz is the 2023-2024 president-elect of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). She is a speaker, coach/consultant, and cofounder of Pearly White Prevention. She can be reached at [email protected].