Editor's Note

I do not love dentistry. If I need to have my head examined, so be it.

I do not love dentistry. If I need to have my head examined, so be it. Words that reflect my feelings toward dentistry are probably respect, admiration, appreciation, and similar synonyms. But head-over-heels in love? No, that's not it.

There's no question that dentistry does (or could, in specific locations around the globe) dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone alive. Oral- systemic connections have been confirmed, so the relationship between dentistry and other health-care professions will continue to improve. The scope of oral-systemic connections will need to be discussed and researched. If it is confirmed that periodontal disease causes toe jam - not sweat, dirt, sock lint, or dead skin - then we need to bring the podiatrists onboard too.

"Mrs. Jones, we need for you to thoroughly bathe between your toes at night to prevent any recurrence of fungal infections. In addition, we need for you to pull off a string of floss and get in there between your teeth. Don't give me that look. OK, just floss the teeth you want to keep."

The American Dental Association should fervently guide consumers, dental professionals, and podiatrists on how the science uncovers the connections between periodontal disease and other health conditions. The ADA needs to be our leader, preventing confusion in health care.

Has there been a lot of love expressed thus far in this column? Nope. Compassion and passion are a couple of other terms tossed about when dentistry is discussed over meat, potatoes, and that gleaming cake sitting on the kitchen counter. The former term makes sense and is arguably even necessary for the dental professional to possess. Passion is open for debate. Have at it with your argument. I'm just saying that I'm not sure if I feel it.

So is there an attitude problem with me? Jannette Whisenhunt, who launches her "Evolving Hygienist" column (page 46) with us this month, wrote about attitude: "Attitude can be defined or thought of in many ways, and it may not always be easy to pinpoint. … Your number one goal should be to have a good attitude with everything you do in the office. Your patients deserve a kind, skilled professional that is working hard to help them with their oral health. This profession is not about you; it is about them."

The column focuses on what the employer is seeking from job candidates, and, in her opinion, attitude is more important that any skill set as a clinician.

What about the other way? I think it was a conversation with Trisha O'Hehir back in the 1980s that first alerted me to the concept that not every dental office should be hiring a dental hygienist - primarily due to some management skill lacking in the dentist employer. The light bulb went on, and I've heard repeatedly over the years about the "bad offices" that are visible in every community because that door never stops revolving from the hygienists entering and leaving.

Dentists write about the questionable value of dental hygienists all the time. One recent comment that definitely negated any love I was feeling at the moment was: "Great hygienists (at least the ones worth keeping) are focused on contribution, and they are compensated for their contribution."

At least the ones worth keeping? The rest of the sentence sounds fine; it's a mantra chanted everywhere in corporate America. But when you blow a mild raspberry about the slim pickings in dental hygiene, it kind of grates on you, you know?

RDH does not publish articles about the bad dental employers. There are passing references to these employers, primarily in salary surveys when a reader vents about a horrendous job experience. Maybe we should. Maybe we should have an ongoing list of dental offices that are not worthy of a dental hygienist's services.

I think dentists should close down their offices for one day in the late spring, and collectively host a job fair at the local hygiene school. They can devise some sort of checklist for "attitudes" that fits nicely on a clipboard. What they won't miss, though, is the wide-eyed enthusiasm dental hygiene students have about their upcoming career. It's about as close to genuine love as you'll see in dentistry.

Don't ruin the attitude. It's a hard thing to nurture back.

Mark Hartley
markh@pennwell.com
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