My role as ambassador

Feb. 1, 2013
The message for today's column is more challenging for me to deliver than it would be if economic times were better and positions for dental hygienists were cascading ...


The message for today's column is more challenging for me to deliver than it would be if economic times were better and positions for dental hygienists were cascading like snowdrops from the wintry skies. What I'm about to say may not reflect the reality of dental hygiene today, but allow me to relay it just the same.

I have been employed by many dentists throughout my clinical lifetime. If you read my column regularly, you have likely heard me speak volumes on the merits of my current practice. One question I posed to hygienist participants at my recent CE seminar was, "Would you allow your doctor to do your dentistry?" When I asked this, I received a multitude of reactions. For some, it's a resounding "yes." Others keep their opinions to themselves. Finally, more than a few were highly vocal with negative responses. (This was usually expressed with hope that their current position would not be their last, but that the market is difficult right now.)

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was working in my office. It is so easy for me to be an enthusiastic champion for our practice. I have been there for six years. I have the utmost respect for the quality of dentistry in our practice, and I love my doctor. He has treated me numerous times, and I wouldn't think of going elsewhere for my dental work.

Because I feel this way, it is quite natural for me to perform a number of functions at chairside that go beyond my clinical responsibilities. I am talking about the role of ambassador. Every dental hygienist has the opportunity to assume this function on a daily basis. I'd like to share with you some of the ways that I do it.

The exam dynamic in our office is an active exchange between me, my doctor, and our patient. I have been in offices previously in which I did my clinical work and then moved over to the counter to update the patient record. Conversation occurred only between the doctor and the patient. In fact, aside from being the person who wrote chart notes or entered them into the computer, I might as well have been Casper the Friendly Ghost. As to why this occurs, I can only say that it happens because it's how the particular doctor prefers it to be. I don't believe this particular exam dynamic allows for me to champion the practice cause as effectively. I will share what happens in my current office and the subsequent impact.

Typically, this is the routine between my doctor and myself at the exam: He will ask the patient first how he or she is doing and then turn to me to inquire as to my findings. I will convey any areas of concern. This might involve a periodontal issue or something regarding restorative options. Yesterday, for example, a patient had fractured tooth No. 3. I felt certain that my doctor would plan to treat with a crown, and I had already prepared Mrs. G for that likelihood. Mind you, it is always with the respectful disclaimer of "I think this is how he will recommend restoration, but know that he is going to look at you with dentist's eyes." In Mrs. G's case, he did indeed recommend that the molar be crowned. He explained the restoration and the protocol, which was a reinforcement of what I had already told her during the appointment. It was important that we reinforce each other, as she had experienced minimal dentistry to date. This was accomplished with me piping in to the conversation whenever I had something to contribute. After my doctor had finished talking, and while he was still in the room, I told Mrs. G that Dr. C had placed two crowns on me and that I wanted to show them to her in my mouth. He then left the room so that I could close the appointment in my usual way, de-bibbing, giving her my goody bag, and winding our conversation down with anything that I wanted to reemphasize of importance.

At that point, I sat down next to her, opened my mouth, and pointed to the crowns he had placed so that she could view them up close. It was fascinating to hear her perspective that the crowned tooth looked just like the virgin tooth adjacent to it. She lingered a bit longer, asking me if the procedure would cause any discomfort.

I was able to speak from the heart because I had walked in a patient's shoes. I conveyed that when I sit in the patient chair, I am a nervous wreck, but that the angel across the hall with the hand piece is a magician who not only puts me at ease, but produces the beautiful results I just showed her.

My patients see my passion for my employer and my practice and realize it is heartfelt. My enthusiasm is contagious, and the overwhelming majority cannot help but jump on that bandwagon. Treatment-planned dentistry in our practice has a high success rate of being scheduled, and I am proud to be a contributor to making that happen.

I am where I want to be, so this is easy for me for me to do. (It has not always been that way.) What is the take-home message? In fairness, as one RDH who attended my seminar conveyed, "I love my doctor and my current practice, and I am proud of the work. I have had my dentistry done by a different dentist since childhood, so I stay loyal. I am just as much a cheerleader for my practice because I believe in what we provide, and I can do that as effectively as you do, Eileen, despite my not being a patient." Completely valid point she is making!

Wherever we as clinical hygienists are practicing currently, the message I want to leave you with is that even if you are not entirely satisfied, I am hoping that you can find something to cheer about to patients in your dental environment. You work there! Nothing is perfect. If I wanted to be really hard-nosed about this, I would tell you that if you cannot find anything that warrants your enthusiasm, you need to find a new dental home. But I digress, because I know things can be tough out there.

I have been around some hygienists that appear to have nothing to applaud, but I have also been around those who seem determined to find the negative. Give them a sunny sky, and they will find a black cloud in it. My friend and colleague, Lori Saporito, RDH and nutrition and wellness counselor, says these individuals are energized by their perceived misery. Personally, if conditions and dentistry were so awful, I would not be able to stay. On the other hand, however, try to find some semblance of positivity and let the good vibrations bounce around your treatment room. It will likely end up coming back to you tenfold.

There is far more to our RDH ambassador role, but I will save that for a future column. Onward we go; it is in our heart's core! RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at

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