Can't live with them, can't live without them

July 1, 2001
Commitments, commitments, commitments ... can't live with them, can't live without them.

Commitments, commitments, commitments ... can't live with them, can't live without them. Can't live with them, can't live without them is a statement typically directed in a shoulder-shrugging, face-contorting way at the opposite gender. Or maybe hygienists say it about dentists. Maybe kids say it about parents. The comment also applies to the basic commitment of just doing what you said you would do today.

On the last day of school, my daughter griped about a commitment she made to a math club. Bad weather had bumped the school picnic into a direct conflict with solving some mathematical formulas with other club members. Guess where she wanted to be? Sorry, kid, you have to honor your commitments. Can't live with Dad, can't live without him.

Commitments, commitments, commitments ... we always have to honor them. I think the ADHA ought to come up with an award for the hygienist who, in the process of honoring commitments to peers, endured being dragged through the most unpleasant sensations — animal excrement, Arizona pavement in August, Maine pavement in January, etc. Because, every year about this time, I think about this nice lady who, when confronted by her peers, said, "Sure, I'll be president of the state dental hygiene association. It sounds like fun." It sounds like fun are four famous last words to many a commitment. State dental associations can be relied on to petition legislators or a regulatory agency to perform some rather stinky acts on dental hygienists.

Who would win such an award for 2001? Well, my vote would go to the nice volunteers from North Carolina or Texas. At least, I hope they're still nice. What they had to suffer through was certainly enough to initiate a personality transformation. But they honored their commitments to represent you.

Legislators in both Texas and North Carolina considered on-the-job (preceptorship) training programs for hygienists. I'd like to pause in regard to the latter for a moment. A female journalist quoted the male president of North Carolina's dental association as saying: "Look at how many females are in dentistry and the problems that have arisen there. They don't work like we do ..."

I think we can pretty much agree that's the kind of a quote any female journalist would love to get on a tape recorder. However, I share the quote here because I took some heat a few months ago for refusing to identify a dental association official from another state who vowed to keep hygienists on their bloodied and battered backs. I don't think that guy was typical of dentists from that state, nor do I think the North Carolina fellow above reflects the opinion of the average Tarheel DDS. It's not good to assume all dentists agree with the president of their dental association.

But isn't it a little strange how dentists keep electing these guys to represent them? Maybe the media should poll only dentists before local, state, and federal elections just so the rest of us voters can figure out who not to vote for?

Cynthia Shoaf, a hygienist from Asheboro, N.C., shared with me a lovely response to the North Carolina doctor above. The editors of the Wilmington Morning Star wrote an editorial published in the April 22 edition. The editors wrote:
"What [the doctor] and apparently a bunch of other gentleman dentists want is for ladies to stick to their proper role — cleaning teeth. And quite possibly the floor, the equipment, and the rest room. Bringing in a batch of cookies now and then would be nice, too. So the dental society thinks it's a waste of time to make them go to classes to learn about complicated tooth and germ stuff that would just make their pretty heads hurt."

Got to love those journalists, eh?

Commitments, commitments, commitments ... We can't just shove them all on the dental hygiene association officials and say, "See ya' at the next annual session!" Dental hygiene is an integral part of who you are. It's what you wake up and decide to do each day.

Sure, you can walk away from it, and dental hygiene will no longer serve as a definition of you. But I don't think it's that easy for most of you. You made a vow, took an oath, and promised to commit yourself to the health of your community. Find a way to revive your commitment. When serving your community as a professional or volunteer, make it crystal clear that you are honoring a commitment that you made as a dental hygienist.

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at [email protected].