A different perspective on the numbers

June 1, 2012
For dozens of years I’ve encouraged dental hygienists to purchase their own equipment. Out of frustration ...

For dozens of years I’ve encouraged dental hygienists to purchase their own equipment. Out of frustration I started buying my own equipment and supplies nearly 30 years ago. Quite honestly, it made sense to me. Armed with my own equipment, I was free to practice with what worked well in my hands, and my risk for workplace-related cumulative trauma disorders decreased significantly. My loupes were custom made with my measurements, and the gloves I wore fit my hand size and shape. It was also a matter of pride that my professional career meant enough to me to invest hard-earned dollars to create a safer and saner workspace.

Not everyone shared my enthusiasm for spending money this way. Some hygienists thought it was weird. Others said they would never spend their money on equipment or supplies, and took the stance that if their doctor would not purchase the equipment or supplies, then so be it. They were wiling to work with whatever they were given.

One day a close friend told me that my approach had ruined things for hygienists everywhere, and she explained that doctors would now expect hygienists to supply everything. After staying at home to raise a family for two decades, this friend took the national board exam to reactivate her Texas license, a remarkable feat for someone who had graduated in the 1950s. For years I admired this hygienist, so her words stung like a thousand bees. No amount of explaining persuaded her to soften her stance. In her eyes, my actions were altering the future of the profession in a negative way.

Still, I clung to the belief that the longevity of my professional career was my responsibility. For the next 10 years I spent most of my clinical time doing temporary work. Having my own equipment raised a few eyebrows, but saved my body from unnecessary wear and tear. Gradually, more of my friends started buying their own loupes and lights. Some even bought their own chairs and power scalers. It was nice not to be the only one moving in this direction, but we were still a small but growing minority.

At first, companies were reluctant to do business directly with dental hygienists. We were invisible to many dental supply companies, and many required our doctors to make purchases on our behalf even though we were paying for the equipment. This approach was demeaning and particularly problematic to those of us who worked as temporaries and did not have a permanent dental home.

Fast forward to today. More companies now want to do business directly with us.

Price can be a big stumbling block for many, but there is a way to make the dollars more palatable. A pair of high quality loupes on a lightweight titanium frame cost around $1,200. That’s a lot of numbers to the left of the decimal point. But rather than focus on the big number, consider how many days of clinical practice it will take to make this purchase. If you make $250 a day, you’ll need to work five days for the loupes, an investment that can and will help prevent injuries and prolong your career for many years.

You don’t need to limit your approach to buying equipment. You can apply the same thinking to what it will cost to attend RDH Under One Roof in Las Vegas this summer or pay membership dues in ADHA for one year.

I challenge you to figure out how many days of work it will take to support your dreams. Daring to create a happier and healthier professional comfort zone is exciting. Putting the numbers in perspective makes it easier to get started. RDH

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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