'It's time for your cleaning'

Do you think the dental hygiene profession deserves more respect? If so, change starts with us.

May 16th, 2019
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As a dental hygienist, I have a lot of pride in the work that I do. I use my trained tactile expertise in removing hard and soft deposits and disrupting biofilms on the teeth and surrounding tissue in order to prevent illness and painful conditions. I use intellect and intuition when handling client concerns, planning treatment, and making recommendations. I have ongoing educational requirements, follow a regulated scope of practice, and abide by a code of ethics. I am a well established health-care professional trained and passionate about disease prevention and health promotion.

So, why is it that I am only known for "cleaning teeth"?

To understand the perception of our profession, we as dental hygienists should all consider the following questions:

  • Do we live up to the expectations of what our training has taught us to do?
  • Do we share our patients' oral health conditions with other health professionals to assist in more accurate medical care?
  • Do we refer our patients to other professions—even within the dental community—when our abilities are insufficient?
  • Are we willing to research oral manifestations that we come across and follow up with patients?

If you can honestly answer these questions about yourself with a yes, then of course you must be upset that your hygiene skills are not valued and that our profession is not fully valued. But thank you and congratulations for raising the bar, because it has to start somewhere! Remember: you are valued by those you serve no matter what others are doing. Your ego may be the one struggling here, but your clients are thriving because of your integrity.

If you think the answer to these questions is no for you or for others, then maybe we need to face the truth that we are just offering a cleaning, despite the fact that it has overall health benefits. We will only rise above the stereotype of cleaning teeth when we rise above the current expectations of dental hygienists.

Do you want to raise the bar of our profession? Do you want to increase your potential to help others? Do you want to have pride in your work? All of this is possible and in your hands. Start by changing the norm.

How?

  • Request more time with clients. This can be challenging, as it could decrease revenue for you and your employer.
  • Take health markers more regularly. You may see your clients more than their MDs, so changes in patients' weight, blood pressure, or heart rate may be identified by you.
  • Probe—and record it all. I am experienced in perio, but without measurements I have missed pockets.
  • Educate. Do this not just oral hygiene instruction, but for how the mouth is linked to overall health.
  • Collaborate. Share patients' oral health conditions with their primary care providers.
  • Reschedule. If you cannot complete patients, book them back. They will appreciate the attention to detail because their health matters to them.
  • Know your limits. It's not an ego thing; it's your ethical responsibility to refer.
  • Most importantly, respect yourself. If you don't, why should others? Do not accept poor working conditions. Instead, increase the profile of the office by improving its protocols, standards, and performance.

It doesn't matter if you are right out of school or an experienced dental hygienist—you are in control of your provided services, work ethic, knowledge, and integrity. So, be the best version of yourself and you will make the world around you better. You will not just be cleaning teeth, you will be increasing the health of the population, which is what you mostly likely became a hygienist to do!

 

Tiffany Ludwicki, RDH, RHC, is a dental hygienist and wellness coach. She started Mind Body Mouth to educate and support the public on achieving optimal health and to encourage health-care professionals to collaborate more holistically. She volunteers with both her provincial and national associations in different capacities, and has been an advocate for policy change at multiple levels of government. Find her online at facebook.com/mindbodymouthcoach and mindbodymouth.net.