Anne Guignon, RDH

Oct. 1, 2002
Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, has taken dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession to greater awareness of how ergonomics can affect our hygiene practice and our lives.

Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, has taken dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession to greater awareness of how ergonomics can affect our hygiene practice and our lives. Her vision is to see all hygienists practice in safety and comfort with a smile in their hearts. Anne's programs and articles cover very serious topics but are treated with a light-hearted air.

I met Anne at the annual Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association's conference in 2001, where she had given a continuing education program. I had been reading and enjoying her columns in RDH magazine and was thrilled to finally meet her. We kept in touch with phone calls and e-mail, and I thought it would be an excellent idea for others to get to know what Anne loves about being a hygienist, giving presentations, and writing.

Anne says she realized at a very young age that she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare, because she loved working with people and wanted to make a difference. After her freshman year in college she was accepted into a nursing program. Before she transferred into the program, though, she met someone who would change her life forever.

During that summer, she worked at a family-owned restaurant in Kansas City. One of the lunchtime patrons was a young dentist, Dr. John Kiesendahl. He and Anne conversed frequently and soon he offered her a part-time position working as a dental assistant and doing front desk duties. The idea of preventing dental disease and having long-term relationships with patients became so intriguing that Anne changed her major to dental hygiene and graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene.

Four months later, Anne began graduate school at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Anne worked her way through college and graduate school, and managed to work a 30-hour week while maintaining an academic load. After six years, she grew tired of balancing this type of grueling schedule and dropped out of school. She returned in 1986 to finish her master's degree in public health. Two years later, she was awarded her master's degree. One week after Anne received the master's, her 93-year-old grandmother was awarded her master's degree in art history.

One year after Anne moved to Houston, she joined a small family practice where she worked full time for 15 years. But by the late-1980s Anne was ready for a change of pace, so she joined a large dental group. Even though she loved practicing with other hygienists she says she found the environment very intense and eventually decided to work as a temporary dental hygienist. During the next five years, she experienced everything good and bad that dental hygiene had to offer.

Three years ago she returned to her first Houston dental office where the dentist's young son-in-law now owns the practice. She says she loves working with Dr. Roger Kaestner and seeing many patients that she met more than 30 years ago. Although she has reduced her clinical time to concentrate more on writing, teaching, and lecturing, Anne still spends several days a week in the "real world" of dental hygiene.

Anne developed many physical problems during her 17 years of dental hygiene practice. She had terrible soreness and muscle tension in her back, shoulders, neck, head and arms. Sometimes the fingers on her right hand tingled and went numb at night, and she also suffered from frequent headaches. Even though Anne loved dental hygiene, she hated the pain it was causing to her body. She tried various treatments that included chiropractic, bite splints and over-the-counter medications, but nothing really worked. Anne purchased larger handled instruments for herself, but it wasn't until she purchased her own magnification loupes and an ergonomic chair that she began to counteract the negative effects of years of dental hygiene practice.

As Anne began to practice differently, she started to gain control of her dental hygiene career and her body again. She decided to learn the Holbrook technique of manually tuned ultrasonic scaling. This took her to another level of dental hygiene practice. Anne knows that every change she has made over the last decade has helped eliminate the physical stress and strain of hygiene practice. She hopes to teach more hygienists how to practice comfortably, which is why her RDH column is named The Comfort Zone.

In 1997 Anne founded her company, ErgoSonics, which combines her interests in ergonomics and ultrasonics. Anne says she knows that hygienists emphasize the benefits of prevention in patient care and wonders how we can get all hygienists to practice prevention and reduce the risk of workplace-related injuries to their own bodies. She travels throughout the country presenting programs on practicing dental hygiene safely.

In addition, she just began her third year as the author of The Comfort Zone column in RDH, where she focuses on ergonomics, patient and clinician comfort issues, new technologies, and burnout. Anne is committed to finding effective ways to combat career-ending problems, hoping that hygienists everywhere can learn from her experiences. Anne says the past 30 years in dental hygiene have brought her to where she is now, and she would never have imagined that she would be making such a difference in so many lives.

"Dental hygiene can be a very rewarding and enjoyable profession, but you are responsible for how you feel physically and mentally," Anne says. "Hygienists are perfectionists, but this perfectionism is killing us physically. We need to understand that excellence is fine; perfection isn't everything."

Anne says she loves doing presentations: she tells her friends, "Just point me to the stage." It must be a genetic trait, because her father taught speech and theatre and was a writer; her maternal grandfather was a newspaper columnist; and her paternal grandfather was a boisterous lawyer. Her favorite part about speaking is being able to teach hygienists how to be in control of their own destiny. Her biggest thrill is seeing a hygienist understand a new concept or make a commitment to try something different. Her speaking empowers everyone in her audience. She is a natural change agent in dental hygiene. If you read her article in the October 2001 issue of RDH, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Podium," you know some of her most embarrassing moments.

Speaking of empowerment, Anne says she feels membership in the American Dental Hygienists Association is critical. Like many other hygienists, she was not a member for the first 10 years of her clinical life. However, once she attended a Houston hygiene meeting, she says she realized how important the organization is to the profession of dental hygiene, both in the local and national arenas.

Anne says she feels practicing clinical dental hygiene is a wonderful preparation for a speaking career because you always have to be flexible and roll with the punches. Her most interesting travel month occurred last April when she traveled to four different parts of the country in 16 days! Anne began her odyssey in Delaware at a small Atlantic Ocean beach resort that she used to visit when she was a youngster. She proceeded to the rainy, craggy coast of Oregon. She then landed in St. Paul, Minn., which was experiencing a premature spring day. She left St. Paul on Sunday morning in a blizzard and returned to hot, humid Houston just two-and-a-half hours later.

Anne is not a morning person at heart. This can be challenging when she is scheduled to present a program early in the morning since she would rather enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Speaking of food, Anne loves any kind, the spicier the better, and she loves trying all sorts of ethnic cuisine. Cooking is one of the ways that Anne relaxes. She relies on her creative nature to create something delicious. If she is stressed or needs to mull something over, Anne often will start cooking complex gourmet meals. In fact, her husband, Derek, confessed to her on their first date that if she could cook Greek food, he knew he would be in love with her! Anne and Derek often are seen sampling Houston's eclectic cuisine, especially on nights they are attending live theater performances.

Anne also is a consulting rosarian for the American Rose Society, which is a group that educates the public about how to enjoy growing roses. Architecture and museums also fascinate her. She tries to visit at least one art museum or garden in every city. Anne grew up in Kansas City so the love of jazz and the blues are engrained in her psyche, along with Broadway show tunes and any type of classical music.

When asked with whom she would most like to have dinner, Anne suggested a dinner party with Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn, Saint Paul, and her father. Each person symbolizes courage to her. Eleanor Roosevelt had a wonderful compassion for the common man; while enduring many personal struggles, she stood up for what she believed in. She admires Katharine Hepburn for having a sense of humor as well as a sense of herself. Anne is intrigued by Saint Paul because his message for living a good life is plain and simple. Anne's dad was a true optimist at heart and his love for people makes him famous in her mind.

Energetic, passionate, creative, and fun-loving are the words Anne uses to describe herself. She feels that we all have God-given talents that can take us to amazing places, if we can find balance and use them with passion. She also believes that dental hygiene is actually a very creative field — we can be the creative force in helping patients to improve their personal oral health.

Initially, Anne was worried that practicing clinical dental hygiene would be "boring." When she graduated, she never imagined that she would be practicing with enthusiasm 30 years later. If she were not a hygienist, Anne says she would like to travel around the world writing about exotic places, chatting with the locals and eating tantalizing foods.

Anne Guignon's upcoming presentations are:• Oct. 20 in Woburn, Mass., for the Middlesex Component of MDHA• Oct. 26 in Sonoma, Calif., for the Redwood Dental Hygienists' Association• Jan. 31 in Boston, Mass. for the Yankee Dental Congress• Feb. 6-7 in Las Vegas, Nev., for the RDH Under One Roof conferenceAnn-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a practicing hygienist in a periodontal-implant practice.She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, is active in the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association, and is a Fellow of the Association of Dental Implant Auxilliaries and Practice Management.Ann-Marie has written articles and presents programs on dental implants, TMD, and developmental delays and can be reached at [email protected].