Th 2101law1

TIMEOUTS: for the dental hygienist's spirit

Jan. 1, 2001
Self-nurturing is a deciding factor between long-term practice and short-term burnout.

Have you ever felt like your spirit was being strangled by dental floss? Or your soul was being subtly sectioned off, slice by slice, with each stroke of your Hu-friedy SH 6/7? Ever felt like your tooth-centered world of curettes, calculus, cotton rolls, and call lists was akin to a vat of quicksand, slowly pulling you down, down, down?

At some point, the majority of hygienists find themselves feeling this way to varying degrees. Many of them do not honor their feelings by stepping back from their sense of commitment, loyalty, and obligation to their work to take some time just for themselves. Taking the time to nurture yourself in unique, creative, and personally transformational ways can be the deciding factor in either long-term practice as a hygienist or hitting short-term burnout and leaving the profession.

Nourishing ourselves and recharging the creative aspect of living can take many forms, as in the saying "different strokes for different hygienist folks!" So, I thought it would be fun to discuss some recent "destressor" experiences shared by hygienists who recognized the need for a personal "timeout" for their spirit. Perhaps this will prompt you to give some time and attention to clarifying your own personal needs ... and then take steps to do something about it!

You will notice there is a common denominator in all of the following accounts ... it's me! As a part-time practicing hygienist and owner of Journeys of Discovery - Mind, Body, Spiritual Adventures, a travel service for women, I've hit upon just the right balance of work, personal self-discovery, and play. My mission is to create unique experiences that foster personal growth and self-discovery. I share these experiences with other wonderful women who need to claim some time for themselves. Honestly, could it get any better? I've got the best of both worlds, and when the dental doldrums begin to set in, I just go swim with a dolphin!

WILD DOLPHINS... dental hygienists go exotic!

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Yes, I said swim with wild dolphins! Swimming with these divine creatures is something so wonderful, emotionally transformational, and joyful that you can't possibly feel stressed about work. Then, add on a week of sun, sea, sand, and snorkeling off the shores of Bimini for an overworked hygienist! One thing the dolphins do is teach us how to play again! Floating in 80-degree, aquamarine water while being circled by dolphins is a feeling of being totally loved. You can't imagine the destressing that happens here! It is pure bliss and a memory that you will carry forever in your heart. Sigrid Balekjian, RDH, from California and Lisa Vinsack, RDH, from Ohio - after donning snorkel masks and fins - recently made some new dolphin playmate friends. - IMG SRC="icons/ogj/2101rdhlaw1.eps">

Lisa Vinsack, RDH, shares her experience:

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As the mother of an infant and a toddler, I had two obvious excuses to talk myself out of going on this dolphin trip. Who would take care of my kids? What if something happened and I was so far away? What if something happened to me? Then the money factor ... I worried about that one a lot! As a mother with small children, there were so many other things I could think of to spend that money on rather than myself. Nevertheless, I had dreamed about swimming with dolphins for years, and I do believe that things happen for a reason. So, when this opportunity presented itself, I knew I had do do it. The serenity I experienced on the trip has carried over into my personal and professional life. The dolphins have taught me how to live in the moment and let go of worry, which has made me happier and more at peace with myself. I can let go of stress at work or at home just by remembering the presence of the dolphins. I've learned just how important it is to nurture yourself and live your dreams. In turn, this has made me a better wife, mother, and dental hygienist.

Here is one of Sigrid's comments:

It was quite an experience watching the dolphins swim along with the boat doing a "bow ride." Diving underneath the bow and then resurfacing as the boat cruised along, they just seemed to enjoy it purely for the sake of having fun - it was a powerful reminder to me about how to enjoy life moment by moment! Then we had the fantastic experience of jumping into the ocean and actually swimming with them. What a new sense of freedom this gave me! It's difficult to describe the emotional feelings I had as these wild dolphins swam so close beside me, turning on their backs and swimming underneath me, looking into my eyes. It was an unbelievable experience. All tension and stress just melted away being with the dolphins. It was wonderful.

GODDESSES IN hygienists in Greece

Hygienists visit Delphi, Greece. The trip included: Gayle Lawrence, RDH, Ohio; Peg Lutz, RDH, Michigan; and Michelle Truitt, RDH, Kentucky.
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Your stress level has grown to about the size of Mt. Everest. You have lost yourself within the demands and obligations of work and family. You find yourself at that place in your life where you might be asking, "What's next for me?" What better place to redefine who you are as a woman than in Greece, the land of the goddess - that place of ancient feminine wisdom where our female essence was powerful, honored, and revered.

I was able to share my first trip to Greece with a group of wonderful hygienists. For me, personally, spending time in the land of the goddess filled me with a renewed strength and resolve. I came home and back to work more self-empowered and clear about setting personal boundaries. I was better able to focus on supporting my own needs within the context of my job and personal life. I was no longer a goddess in disguise ... I returned from Greece unmasked! I acted more authentically and took charge of making my day-to-day work experience positive and healthy for myself. It also was a life-changing journey for Peg Lutz, RDH, from Michigan. Challenging herself to travel out of the country with a group of women she had never met put her in a place where she really could take stock of who she was. She recognized her desire to move in a new direction, and she claimed her power and did just that.

Here are Lutz's comments:

My journey in Greece was wonderful! I felt a little anxious initially, since this was my first time traveling abroad with women I did not know. But I recognized my need to challenge myself and do something I had never done before. I was matched with a perfect roommate; we have become good friends and still stay in touch with each other. The trip was filled with beautiful sunsets, great food, and wonderful shopping; it also had adventure, education, and challenges. It really was a marvelous growing experience. I climbed to the top of a volcano one day and down four levels into a "goddess" cave the next. I experienced the mystery, power, and energy of many ancient ruins; it was a very spiritual experience. I came on the trip struggling with the decision about changing careers. The other hygienists in the group were a great support network and helped me clarify what I really wanted in my life and work. I came home feeling very self-empowered. Five months later, I left a 16-year career in dental hygiene for a position as a financial adviser with Waddell & Reed, Inc., in Michigan. My background and experience as a hygienist have geared my focus toward assisting other women within the dental community in planning their financial future.

Lutz may be reached at (800) 265-4586.

COMMUNITY hygienists going to the dogs!

At the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, from left to right: Kim Osgood, RDH, Arizona; Peg Lutz, RDH, Michigan; and Gayle Lawrence, RDH, Ohio.
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Life sometimes finds us totally self-absorbed within our own stress, drama, overwork ... and a stopped-up toilet. We think our problems are overwhelming, hopeless, and impossible! Getting involved in some type of community service can snap you out of the illusion of hopelessness and help you realize all the blessings and abundance you have in your own life.

I got creative with "community service." It doesn't always have to be for the local, free clinic if you are a hygienist, and it doesn't always have to be with people. One of the most rewarding experiences for me is giving my time and attention to animals in need. Two other hygienist friends felt the same way, so off we went to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, to spend three days as volunteers. We had a great time, and, believe me, there is no way you can be engrossed in your own problems when you are cleaning out kitty-litter pans, surrounded by "special needs" animals who are craving your attention and are delighted that you are there. All of the abused and abandoned animals at Best Friends, the largest no-kill sanctuary in the country, have found a home where "all the stories have happy endings!" We get-away hygienists worked with the cats, dogs, and horses. We also spent time at the bunny house and visited Feathered Friends. We got a private tour of the state-of-the-art animal hospital and dental-exam room, complete with ultrasonic scaler. It was such a rewarding experience. The commitment of the staff members at Best Friends - who devote their lives to caring for these homeless animals - deepened my own sense of commitment to my life and work with "people patients." The experience touched all our hearts in a very tender and meaningful way.

Kim Osgood, RDH, from Arizona had this to say:

Upon entering Angel Canyon, home of Best Friends, I felt a tranquillity and peacefulness come over me. This canyon was full of loving energy, as I was about to discover. At the Welcome Center, I felt the need to whisper - as though something sacred was taking place. I knew I had entered a true sanctuary, and the privilege was all mine. I spent a long time touching, brushing, and giving general TLC to the dogs in the "Old Friends" quarters, where senior dogs (10 years and older) live. There is no need to talk. The dogs just want to be close and have attention. They like sweet sounds of music or voices telling them they are loved. Spending time with these animals in need of a human counterpart brought a simplistic perception to this complicated existence. We too often underestimate the power of touch. The healing that takes place happens for the receiver, as well as the giver. As hygienists, it's so important to remember that our touch does more than perform a dental-health service. It communicates our sincerest wish for well-being.

Giving to others - be it people, pets, or Mother Nature - can be a freeing experience. I was transported out of my life to a place much more important ... a place of service, where others were in need of what I had to offer: a gentle, loving touch.

If you would like to visit Best Friends in Kanab, Utah, call (435) 644-2001 or visit

A DAY AT THE hygienist divas!

At Mario's Spa, from left to right: Lorna, Ross, RDH; Gayle Lawrence, RDH; and Lisa Vinsack, RDH, all of whom work together in a large practice in Ashland, Ohio.
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Well, maybe you are not in a position to travel to Greece to feel like a goddess. There are opportunities much closer to home that will nourish your mind, body, and spirit. The experience is even more enjoyable if your boss pays for it! (Aren't we all worth a special perk for working our fingers to the bone? You bet we are!) My present employer and I have worked together for 13 years. He has reached the point where he breaks out in a cold sweat when he sees me coming down the hall with that gleam in my eye. He knows I have another great idea for a staff bonus, and, with enough pestering, he'll eventually agree to it! In my office, we decided to set a pretty high production goal for three consecutive months. If we maintained the production goal, the dentist would send all of us (three hygienists and eight other staff members) to Mario's Spa for a full day. Did we succeed? Of course we did! Our reward was a full day of destressing - being pampered, buffed, polished, waxed, and massaged - all while sipping champagne. Cleopatra didn't have it this good!

IN-OFFICE MASSAGE...15 minutes just for me!

Here is a suggestion that you might consider implementing in your office. Earlier this year, I read an article that mentioned large corporations hiring massage therapists to come in periodically and give 15-minute head-and-neck massages to their employees. The benefits were very positive, with increased productivity and a noticeable decrease in conflict and tension among co-workers. Plus, everybody just felt better, and the effort demonstrated management's concern for em ployees' general health and well-being. I thought this sounded like a fabulous idea that certainly would benefit a busy, stressed dental office staff! - Getting a massage: Lisa Vinsack, RDH, Ohio.IMG SRC="icons/ogj/2101rdhlaw6.eps">

So, idea in hand, I headed down the hall with that gleam in my eye to find my boss. He saw me coming and initially tried to escape, but I cornered him in the lab. After 13 years of this, he doesn't put up much of a fight anymore -which just makes it easier on both of us! So, for the last year and a half, Tim, a licensed massage therapist, visits us every Tuesday. Each staff member gets a 15-minute head, neck, or hand massage. This is working out well for all concerned, because I suggested we barter with Tim, who needed quite a bit of restorative dentistry. This might be a way for your office to engage the services of a massage therapist without an actual cash outlay.

So, make a commitment to give yourself some much-needed time to relax and de stress. Pay at tention to your feelings and your personal needs. Get creative in coming up with ways to nurture yourself. If you need any creative ideas, just call me!

Not only take responsibility for planning personal time for yourself, but put this on your next staff meeting agenda. Brainstorm about ways that you might spend time "destressing as an office." The process can serve to create a much closer bond among the people you work with every day. A relaxed staff means a more relaxed office atmosphere ... and the patient may be the one who benefits the most!

Gayle Lawrence, RDH, practices dental hygiene in Ashland, Ohio. She also is the owner of Journeys of Discovery - Mind, Body, Spiritual Adventures for Women. If you would like to join her in Greece/Crete in May 2001 or on a wild dolphin swim - women's retreat in June 2001 - please contact her at (888) 285-1585 or visit