It takes a hygiene village

June 1, 2012
“Seasoned” hygienists who have been in practice for many years have something that one cannot get a degree for ...

Together, we can turn hygiene around; consider mentoring

By Lauren Gueits, RDH

“Seasoned” hygienists who have been in practice for many years have something that one cannot get a degree for, purchase, or even give to others — experience. Experience is priceless and may be relative to the degree of one’s tenacity, work habits, people skills, and compassion for others.

Some hygienists may have had negative experiences with the profession of dental hygiene; others, including myself, have had positive experiences and embrace dental hygiene. I am still passionate about being a health-care advocate to patients.

Is it reasonable to say you only get back what you put in? Perhaps, but I do feel these tough economic times, along with the abundance of hygiene schools, make it difficult for even the most passionate hygienist out there to be able to have a rewarding, successful career in dental hygiene.

Many hygienists, especially recent graduates, are struggling with getting their first jobs. Meanwhile, seasoned hygienists are being overlooked, being told they are “overqualified,” or potential employers simply “cannot afford them.” Then there are those hygienists who may have been fortunate enough to attain their first jobs but are disillusioned by the lack of respect and satisfaction they feel due to “hygiene burnout,” feeling like “teeth cleaning machines” instead of valued members of the health-care team.

Many seasoned hygienists may recall back in school being both big and little sisters for our fellow hygiene students. We would embrace and be embraced, give and gain advice, share and receive needed guidance and wisdom. Wouldn’t it be great if we could give and gain, share and receive, embrace and be embraced once again? Especially now, when the dental hygiene climate is difficult and economic times are tough. Now is when we as a community need it the most!

I would like to share a personal experience mentoring a hygienist who has been in the workforce for two years. Cortney was on the verge of giving up on hygiene but her student loans have kept her “stuck” in what she felt was a grueling job, not the rewarding career for which she aspired.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to find a position in one of the top Invisalign offices in the country as a “clinical practice manager.” My goal was to implement a hygiene department that was of the highest quality, focusing on individualized patient care, thus increas- ing periodontal/preventive services ratio. Upon my arrival, I felt like a cross between Mary Poppins and Chef Ramsay on Kitchen Wars! They had half-hour prophy appointments with patients being side-booked due to high cancellation rates. The two hygienists both had different philosophies of patient care. Everyone was in “survival” mode instead of working as a team. I instinctively knew I had to have one hygienist working full time with benefits, who wanted a career, not just an hourly job.

That hygienist was Cortney.

Cortney shadowed me for about three months and learned firsthand how patient education is the key to patient compliance, motivation, and treatment acceptance. She also learned the importance of risk factor assessment for both periodontal and systemic disease and started to learn about the latest advances in dentistry and technology. She now sees the value in read- ing the journals and being part of the ADHA. I was so thrilled to give her the gift of attending RDH Under One Roof in Las Vegas this year as a reward and “right of passage.” Ceremoniously, just like Scouts have their “crossing over” ceremony, she crossed over from being a “teeth cleaner” to a valued health-care professional. Given the proper environment and training, Cortney was able to thrive both personally and professionally.

People say the gift of giving is better than receiving. I, like many, can certainly attest to that. Watching Cortney grow into a confident, articulate, and seasoned hygienist is like watching your child get on the bus to go to kindergarten for the first time. It is heartwarming to say the least. Regarding the business aspect, Cortney has quadrupled hygiene production while seeing half the amount of patients. She has been given the forum to provide quality care and she has thrived. She also is receiving full-time benefits and additional income relative to her increased production. She now has control of the hygiene department and patients are referring family and friends due to the quality of care they are receiving.

So here it is — a shout out to all seasoned hygienists. Experience cannot be given. But it certainly can be shared and used to guide our sister/brother hygienists.

The power of one is amazing! If we all embraced a peer to mentor, we could truly improve the hygiene community as well as our ADHA membership. Imagine the possibilities if we were to rally and have a “Bring your little sister/brother to work day.” This would apply to all aspects of the scope of the dental hygiene profession: clinical, educational, sales/marketing, writing, lecturing, community health services, etc. If we all selected a student, recent graduate or someone we felt would benefit from shadowing us, the outcomes could be life-changing and potentially turn hygiene around.

Sunstar and RDH magazine are teaming up to sponsor a “Hygiene Discovery Program” (see note from Jackie Sanders, RDH, on the first page of this article). A select number of hygienists will be chosen by a panel of judges to attend the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction event with past award recipients, where they can meet a mentor, network, and gain from their positive experiences.

The future of dental hygiene is in our hands. One thing I know for sure is that dental hygienists are more tenacious than subgingival calculus. Let’s band together and keep our beloved profession of dental hygiene a respected, successful and rewarding career choice. Consider being a mentor to a hygienist you feel may need a “hygiene turnaround.” RDH

Lauren Gueits, RDH, is president and founder of Healthy Smile Consultants, which specializes in continuing education, practice management, and community health as it relates to the oral/systemic link. Lauren received her dental hygiene degree from SUNY Farmingdale in 1991, and is an ADHA member. Lauren is also a member of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health. She is a recipient of the 2010 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction as well as the first hygienist to present at the American Association of Diabetes Educators National Symposium 2011. Her efforts to raise the awareness of Oral Health Links has been recognized on WNBC and WABC. She can be contacted at [email protected]. www.oralhealthlink.com.

Sunstar Discovery Program

After 10 years of recognizing the exemplary performance of dental hygienists, the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction has 81 members. In May 2012, eight new recipients were announced. Each year, this highly recognized group of professionals spends an evening together to share the accomplishments and achievements of the past year while welcoming the new members.

To expand the knowledge and experience of this talented group, Sunstar Americas has chosen to introduce the Sunstar Discovery Program. Twenty up-and-coming future leaders in dental hygiene will be selected to share the evening with the Award of Distinction recipients.

To qualify, you must be registered for RDH Under One Roof in Las Vegas, August 2012, and be available to attend the event on Wednesday, August 1, at 6:00 p.m.

If you feel such an event would benefit your career, please visit:

At the above link, you can compose a written response along with name, email address, and year of graduation. Please respond by June 25, 2012.

Jackie Sanders, RDH, BS
Manager, Sunstar Americas Professional Relations and Communications

Cortney’s Story

Hello, fellow hygienists, my name is Cortney Annese, and I would be honored to share my clinical working experiences with one of the renowned hygienists in the country, Lauren Gueits. Working with Lauren not only has changed my outlook on hygiene but also expanded my horizons in various ways. Instead of feeling like a “tooth cleaner” that slaves away, I believe that I’m a health-care practitioner, positively impacting patients’ health.

Experience is something that can only be gained. Being a recent graduate, I am fortunate enough to have such a wonderful, dignified, and strong men- tor, who guides me in any given situation. It is comforting to have a “go to” person.

Cortney Annese and her mentor, Lauren Gueits

However, this was not the case just mere months ago. I felt hopeless in the hygiene grind, working six days a week and was extremely discouraged. Then one glorious day, the skies opened up and there came Lauren, my saving grace who came into the practice to help regain its integrity. She opened up everyone’s minds with her knowledgeable facts and firsthand experiences about the oral-systemic connection, explainng that we must educate our patients about their oral environment.

“We are the gatekeepers!” she would often say.

These beliefs and hygiene morals resonated with me, and I ultimately did my best in educating patients with what I learned from Lauren.

After three months of educating patients on preventive and periodontal facts, our office did a complete turnaround by implementing a clinical protocol for patients. Ironically, lengthening appointments to allow more time for patient education not only made the schedule more organized but more productive too! Opening up patients’ minds to the connection between the mouth and the rest of the body dramtically increased treatment case acceptance and, more importantly, the health of our patients. I am also proud to report a greater degree of respect and appreciation toward hygienists occurred.

Sure, I graduated from one of the most prestigious universities that embedded in me the fundamentals of my career. But it also put me into a financial crisis. However, after applying these protocols, the office became more successful and now I’m able to live more comfortably — with benefits!

Most importantly, what I’ve gained from having Lauren as my mentor is something I cannot express, and and I am extremely grateful for all she’s given to me and the office.

I now look forward to going to work knowing that I’m appreciated and valued by my employer, the staff, and my patients — it’s the best win-win scenario. At the end of the day, it feels good to come home (especially living in a busy city) knowing that I made a difference in my patients’ lives.

I strongly recommend reaching out and sharing your experiences with the dental hygiene community. Motivation is not only inspiring, it is contagious!

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