A longing for cobblers

You want to know what I thought about the salary survey that appears in this issue? Most of you got a raise; count your blessings. .

By Mark Hartley

You want to know what I thought about the salary survey that appears in this issue? Most of you got a raise; count your blessings. Considering the general state of the American economy, my overall impression of the dental hygiene profession is that it's doing just fine and dandy.

You know what else I thought about? I think we should miss cobblers more than we admit. Even with the incredible variation of styles offered by mass producers of shoes, wouldn't it be nice if we could wander down to a cobbler and let him look at our own peculiar feet? My feet are big, but not huge. My feet have a high arch, which means I can't wear cowboy boots — somewhat of a sin in the Southwest.

But there's always a pair of shoes in a store that seem to fit. They're snug enough, and I can walk or run a certain distance without tripping into a dark crevasse.

I suppose I'm happy with my shoes. A factory's computer monitors all of the "modular manufacturing processes" involved with making a pair of shoes for me. I suppose my toes, heels, and ankles are comfortable. But, as the owner of my feet, I just keep thinking, "You guys deserve something special. You have carried me a lot of miles. I'm going to go down to a cobbler and let him make a pair just for you."

The term cobbler, of course, has a double meaning. The word refers to craftsmen who repair or make shoes. I'm referring to the latter with my wistful longing here. But a recent Boston Globe article quotes one of the former. The old-timer said of the cobbling business: "Nobody wants to pass it on, so no one knows the trade. There's no school for this sort of thing."

See where I'm going with this?

Sorry, my feet are just as important to me as my teeth. I don't want to be sitting here many years from now and having this conversation with my teeth: "You know what? You guys have allowed me to enjoy thousands of delicious meals with servings of varying textures and consistencies. I've slurped down some great soup, but I wasn't limited to soup. I've gnawed on bones, as well as eaten sticky, sweet stuff that just left me feeling like I had reached Heaven. Today, I'm not going to take you guys to one of those high school kids who work for the dentist. Today, you get a dental hygienist."

I dial a phone number.

"This is Ralph at Dr. Johnson's office."

"Ralph? You sound like this kid named Ralph who helped me choose a refrigerator at Best Buy last week?"

"Could've been me. I worked there."

"You're in dentistry now?"

"Yeah. I don't really know that much about refrigerators, and they are kind of boring. Thought a change of scenery would be nice."

"I see. Well, anyway, I wanted to make an appointment with a dental hygienist for my teeth. There's nothing wrong with them. Just want a hygienist to look them over, make sure they're all right, flush out any of the bad stuff — just basic preventive dentistry."

Pause.

"Ralph?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I make an appointment?"

"Uh, we don't really have dental hygienists anymore. We sell these oral health trays — just stick them in your mouth and it's all done automatically. But if you have a cavity, I can fill it for you."

"Yeah, I know about those trays made by the factories. But I want to get a real hygienist. My teeth deserve special treatment." Pause. "You can fill teeth?"

"Yes, sir. The doctor showed me how yesterday."

Yes, I know. Cobblers were never really considered to be health-care practitioners. But I glanced at the information about footwear on the Web site for the American Podiatric Medical Association before writing this article. It seems like those doctors think my shoes have a whole lot to do with the health of my feet.

Do me a favor? Seize control of your profession. Do not let restorative dentistry control the fate of preventive dentistry. The dental hygiene profession should be self-regulated. I know you get tired of listening about the "politics" of dentists vs. dental hygienists. At the very least, fight for the principles of dental hygiene for the sake of future generations.

We don't want anyone wondering about "whatever happened to dental hygienists and cobblers."

That's what I thought about when working on the salary survey.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com.

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