Absolutely, positively wary - for two reasons

March 1, 2001
Do you absolutely, positively have a reason to be wary? Absolutely.

Two eloquent letters in the Reader's Forum are worth pausing to read. Both Anne Guignon and Wana Milam write very compellingly about preceptorship. The two Texans are not personally affected by what has happened in, for example, Alabama or Kansas. They are just concerned about your long-term prospects as a dental hygienist. I offer two more reasons below why you are absolutely, positively justified in feeling a little wary about the future of your profession:

  • CEOs relish the churning of paperwork.
  • When the horn is tooted, is it loud enough?

Even dentists often agree that they are ill-prepared to be businessmen. Articles frequently appear in journals stating that dental school does little to prepare dentists to run a business. They are not qualified to be CEOs.

Why hasn't the world collapsed from the lack of business acumen from these 100,000-plus CEOs who are commonly known as dentists? If they have sense, they'll call in a consultant to straighten a mess out. In other cases, Daddy or Grandpa offers wise advice to offspring about business management. Sometimes dentists are just lucky; they end up on the same pleasure yacht with Fortune 500 CEOs, enjoying the fruits of retirement. Dentists are respected by the financial community. They are allowed to retire debts and accrue wealth in a timely fashion, and it works - even when they have no idea how they accomplished it.

For a very good reason, though, consultants absolutely, positively love dentists. They can spot a CEO who needs help faster than a kid can find a cookie jar. Unfortunately, not all consultants love dental hygienists. Some consultants successfully enhance the business value of the hygiene operatory in the mind of a dentist/CEO. Other consultants, though, fail miserably. The hygiene department turns into something uglier than a 10-car pileup on the freeway, where all of the "witnesses" cite different reasons for the wreckage. For a very good reason, business journalists, lawyers, and CEOs in other industries do not seek out the expertise of dental CEOs - except, you know, when their mouths hurt or they perceive their smiles to be unattractive.

So what do CEOs do? One thing they do is initiate paperwork - mountains of it - to examine all possibilities for growth. In dentistry, it is a fact that paperwork has been initiated to examine the role of dental hygiene in the future. It is a stated "goal" of organized dentistry to assess alternatives in the delivery of the care that is traditionally offered by dental hygienists. Now here's where it gets tricky. Every state sets its own pace to reach these goals, and every state explores its own manpower solutions. This is why officials in your state's hygiene association sometimes act a little freaked out. They are trying to determine when the hammer is going to fall and how.

So do you absolutely, positively have a reason to be wary? Absolutely.

The second justification for wariness requires you to, one, stop being modest for a moment, and, two, consider how extensive the praise for dental hygiene really is. If you're a good worker, the CEO praises you during employee reviews. You may even receive the CEO's praise in front of clients. If you exceed productivity goals, the rest of the dental staff may very well hear about the "employee of the month." A couple of years ago, the ADA produced public service announcements that proclaimed the dental hygienist to be a "star."

Is the recognition for the health care that you provide all that it could be? If you answered "yes," then I have to be honest in saying that I'm a little skeptical. Dentists generally react in one of two ways to recognition for the excellent dentistry offered to American consumers. They either take the credit or they cite the "team" effort. There's nothing wrong with the team concept. Businesses blissfully switch from red to black ink by encouraging team innovations and productivity.

A consumer's perception of the services offered by a dental office, though, becomes rather vague and unclear when it's provided by someone who doesn't have "doctor" before his or her name. Why isn't dental hygiene more of a superhero? I'm not stuck on hygiene with this argument. If you want to make the argument that other members of the team - chairside assistants, for example - are directly responsible for the excellent health enjoyed by dental consumers, be my guest.

But do American consumers fully understand how their dental hygienist eradicates disease? No. Do you absolutely, positively have a reason to be wary? Absolutely.

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