Brain Loosening

Oct. 15, 2013
Many people feel that they are not creative, but if you could name yourself imaginatively, what would it be?

by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MED, FADIA, FAADH

Many people feel that they are not creative, but if you could name yourself imaginatively, what would it be? Participating in a creative exercise such as this encourages one to engage in a process known as "brain loosening." By having participants name themselves in her course entitled "Turning on the Innovative Brain," Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, creates an atmosphere that emphasizes openness, learning, and innovation in a nonjudgmental, collaborative, and fun manner that activates the brain. This brain loosening exercise allows Dorothy to teach about the physiology of the brain while emphasizing the fact that we all can "rewire" our brains for innovative thinking. She feels that all ideas are good ideas and wants others to feel comfortable in expressing their ideas. Once their brains have been loosened through this interaction, Dorothy asks participants questions such as: "What is innovation?" "Who is using innovation?" "Why is innovation important?" "How can innovation be applied to dentistry?" and "What innovations are needed in dentistry?" From these questions, Dorothy finds one area within dentistry that needs new innovations and the program takes off from there. Participants brainstorm the issue to arrive at a new solution. There are no limitations and she encourages an audience to develop wild and wonderful solutions and to build on one another’s ideas.

From this entertaining and informative exercise, Dorothy brings participants to the challenge of convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is defined as thinking that brings information into focus on solving a problem using logical validity. Questions raised during the convergent thinking portion of Dorothy’s program include: "What will work?" "Is the timing right?" "Are the appropriate resources available?" "How can it be presented to enlist others such as patients, coworkers, doctor?" "What is needed to make the solution work?" Participants take each of these questions, and with their answers, create their solutions. Dorothy then employs the Discovery Cycle with participants to expand their thinking. The Discovery Cycle leads to logically creating innovative thinkers by helping them think "outside the box." It involves six processes:

  • Association – what the eureka moment looks like
  • Questioning – what we ask reveals the root problem
  • Observing – what we observe is telling of the true need
  • Networking – diversification sparks new ideas
  • Experimenting – celebrating success and failure
  • Incubating – letting go, seeking a relaxed space for connection

As part of the overall process and to reinforce the Discovery Cycle in a right-brain activity, Dorothy uses four baseball caps (alias thinking caps) with each of these four words on them for the first participant who has an answer to the section drills:

  • Explorer: one who is looking for new ideas or solutions to old problems
  • Artist: one who enhances the ideas
  • Judge: one who weighs the pros and cons
  • Warrior: one who drives the change, idea, or process.

With all of the drills and sections, what will a hygienist or other team member learn by participating in "Turning on the Innovative Brain"? The program goals of Dorothy’s course include:

  • Building synapses for "whole" brain functioning
  • Employing strategies for brainstorming for new ideas or solutions to old problems in dentistry and/or dental hygiene
  • Utilizing the Discovery Cycle to expand innovative thinking
  • Applying current best business practices by turning on the innovative brain
  • Increasing confidence in one’s ability to be creative in handling any challenge, both professional and personal

Dorothy has been presenting this program to not only dental teams but corporate industry as well. In today’s business world, there is recognition that learning innovative thinking is imperative in remaining competitive in the corporate world. Learning to exercise the innovative brain will expand the hygienist's and other team members' abilities to energize the practice. Participants in the program begin to trust that they are creative and have the ability to develop unique treatment plans for each patient, not relying on a one-size-fits-all prescriptive treatment plan. This creativity produces a meaningful, unique, customized patient experience that sets a practice apart from others and builds a stronger patient base.

Dorothy is a graduate of Western Kentucky University and received her license to practice dental hygiene in Canada after passing both the national and provincial boards of Canada. Prior to moving to Canada, Dorothy practiced clinically for two years in Kentucky. Dorothy began presenting this program because of her own life's journey. In her 20s, her creativity emerged when she designed and built her own home with the help of family and friends. After a divorce and finding herself a single mom with two small children, she worked full-time as a hygienist. She desired a more balanced life with her family and therefore decided to decrease her hygiene practice. But she needed something to offset the loss of income and began a photography business in her home studio. Although she had no formal training in photography, Dorothy found she had a natural talent, a strong motivation, and a creative passion. She built a successful photographic business earning both a Craftsman and Master of Photographic Arts with the Professional Photographers of Canada. By achieving all of this, she learned volumes along the way about herself and innovative thinking. Today, with a renewed focus on hygiene, Dorothy trains others to "think differently" and to meet challenges with the mindset of turning on the innovative brain. Dorothy believes that with creativity, the result is a breakthrough to new ideas and solutions that are mutually beneficial to the patient and the practice.

Dorothy is passionate about her family, yoga, fitness, learning, and giving back to her community. She is a member of her local Rotary Club, a board member of a woman’s shelter, and has created digital presentations for a local watershed. She enthusiastically lives life with purpose by using her talents, abilities, and energies to make the planet a better place. In addition to the “Innovative Brain” program, Dorothy's other programs include:

  • Collaboration – One Plus One Equals Five: a proactive adaption of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking
  • Leadership – The Rise of All: an exercising of leadership skills to create a culture that fosters leadership in all team members
  • Achieving Successful Teams Through Zero Tolerance for Bullying: a review of team building with the recognition and knowledge of what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like

Dorothy’s biggest concern for dental hygiene currently is the lack of thought about how many hygienists are graduated each year. Supply and demand affects every aspect of a business and when there are too many hygienists, a discrepancy in hygiene salaries is raised. She knows of hygienists who are employed at an assistant’s salary without the savings to the business being passed on to patients. Dental hygiene is a wonderful profession and she feels every hygienist deserves an income that reflects the skill and education.

Dorothy believes that those in dental hygiene and in dentistry who are proactive in gaining the skills and knowledge of "whole brain" thinking, who explore looking at issues from another perspective, who question the status quo, and who dare to dream will be leaders as the profession moves forward. She believes that dental hygiene is an incredible profession for which she is grateful on so many levels. Hygienists touch people both literally and personally each day. We can drive change on a grassroots level; we can create tomorrow today!

For further information on Dorothy’s programs, contact [email protected]. RDH

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at [email protected].

Thought for the month:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein

The INEEDCE course and code this month are “A Review of Dental Caries Detection Technologies” with discount code AMOCT13 for 50% off tuition (regularly priced $49; $24.50 after discount).


Caries diagnosis is one of the most basic diagnostic skills that oral health-care professionals must learn; and yet, it remains one of the most difficult skills to reliably and predictably master. In this course we will review the various caries detection technologies available to assist the dental professional with this complex task.

More RDH Articles
Past RDH Issues