by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
Forty years ago my purse was stolen out of a grocery cart. In a split second, my new and trendy blue suede purse was snatched. My dental hygiene pin, a precious, old-fashioned symbol of an exacting educational experience nestled in my coin purse, was gone forever. That disruptive, inconvenient episode made me more careful about leaving my possessions unattended in a public place.
Time has a way of blurring details. It’s easy to let your guard down. A couple of weeks ago I was in the Apple store for weekly computer training. While the techs were correcting a software/hardware issue, I reorganized my purse in preparation for a flight the next day. When the session resumed I shoved the purse to the other side of the counter, ignoring basic antitheft principles.
Several experienced thieves stalking the busy store took advantage of my complacency. Within 40 minutes they used my Visa card to buy groceries and a tank of gas in stores just across the freeway, where they also stole another purse out of a parked car. Hours later the thieves dropped my now-empty purse during a foiled attempt to steal another purse in a department store. All three victims were caught unaware.
That afternoon was a nightmare, spent getting a new driver’s license, cancelling three credit cards, getting more cash for my impending trip, and trying to recreate the contents of my purse.
The unfortunate episode was entirely avoidable. Carelessness created the perfect opportunity for theft, but it could have been worse. My car keys and cell phone were in my pocket during the training session, so I had a way to get home.
This annoying episode strikes a perfect parallel to those who disregard on-the-job safety issues. Workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders, rampant in our profession, rob thousands of dental professionals of their livelihood and profoundly affect daily living. Imagine developing an injury to your hand, shoulder, or neck that would prevent you from combing your hair, holding a baby, writing a letter, or experiencing a restful sleep.
Most people who become injured never think they will sustain an injury. Many blithely ignore their own body’s warning signs such as chronic muscle soreness, stiff joints, or inexplicable numbness or tingling. They take ever-increasing doses of painkillers, wear splints, or take cortisone shots, typical band-aid approaches that do not address the real issues.
There will never be enough money to make up for getting hurt on the job. While it would be wonderful if all workplaces provided completely safe working environments, a quick reality check indicates that we need to be part of the solution and actively prevent needless injuries. Our careers are ours, and that means we have to accept responsibility for our own personal health and safety.
Long-term health and wellness require a series of decisions and commitments to help prevent needless injuries. It is imperative that we take ownership, and invest time, effort, and dollars to create a safe working environment. We can’t rely on our dentist employer to provide our every need.
Many companies now recognize the purchasing power of the dental hygienist and are making diligent efforts to provide affordable products and flexible payment plans. Smart companies are interested in our business and building strong relationships. The number of companies that support RDH Under One Roof every year is ample proof of this exciting trend.
More dental hygienists are purchasing their own equipment. The number of clinicians who now wear magnification loupes and auxiliary lighting, use ergonomically designed hand and ultrasonic instruments, and sit in chairs designed to safely support their bodies increases every day. Students are learning to practice from day one with sound ergonomic principles, and increasing numbers of programs require students to use magnification.
Ten years ago I started writing the Comfort Zone column. It was scary to ask dental hygienists to change their behavior and invest in their future. Now it’s thrilling to see my vision of professional responsibility and workplace safety manifested all over the country.
About the Author
Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is the senior consulting editor for RDH magazine. She is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters, as well as present seminars. She is a recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, and has practiced dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.