Diva driving lessons

May 1, 2002
When I flew to Fort Lauderdale for a continuing-education program last year, a friend picked me up at the airport.

When I flew to Fort Lauderdale for a continuing-education program last year, a friend picked me up at the airport. She was driving her new car, which I immediately dubbed the "Diva Mobile." I was impressed - plush leather seats, roomy interior, and buttons for every creature comfort imaginable. The Diva Mobile was equipped with a special satellite-generated information service. As we weaved through the streets of this coastal community, hunting for a famous historical south Florida home, "Dave," the satellite tour guide, gave us flawless directions. My friend and I giggled; certainly he knew that the fate of two divas was the most important duty he would have that day.

My friend, a fellow hygienist, and I were on a mission - a mission to have fun and share some downtime "girl-style," laughing, talking, cruising, and just letting our hair down. Our only agenda was to have fun. All day long, I was amazed at the comfort of the Diva Mobile. Since I am a proud owner of a paid-for 1993 Saturn wagon, I wondered why my friend had made the decision to purchase a car like this. She had a perfectly good explanation: She spends hours in her car, so she wanted a vehicle that would offer both safety and comfort. The Diva Mobile is her office on wheels.

My Saturn turned nine last month. It gets me back and forth to my clinical practice three days a week in a quarter of an hour. Its blue-book value is low and so are its miles. Quite frankly, I hate driving and a five-mile commute is about all I can handle in Houston's legendary traffic.

Don't worry; I'm not feeling sorry for myself. My "Diva Mobile" is parked in my dental hygiene treatment room! Yep, you guessed it. It's my ergonomic chair with arms and my magnification loupes fitted with a lightweight fiber-optic light. I can't imagine practicing dental hygiene any other way. The chair provides comfortable support for my legs, back, and arms. My loupes do not allow me to slump over; the working distance is set so that I maintain perfect posture throughout the entire dental hygiene appointment. My headlight is as important to me clinically as a clean, clear windshield and bright headlights are to my friend in her Diva Mobile.

My Diva Mobile even has special features for passenger comfort. When my patients recline in the "passenger seat," they are amazed at the comfort. Their head is supported by a beanbag-type headrest that adjusts to every quirk in their neck. My passenger/ patients are in complete control of the vibrations from a full-body massage pad - the location, strength, and frequency - as well as whether or not heat is delivered along with the soothing pulses. There are even specialty settings for those who prefer more complex varieties of pulsation.

Time and time again, patients melt into total relaxation as I rinse their mouths with lukewarm water, carrying the last traces of grit away with a foam-padded saliva ejector. When they beg to spend more time in the chair, I feel like the ultimate dental hygiene chauffeur!

What about safety? Justifiably, many people are focused on automobile safety. None of us would ever dream of driving to work in an old, broken-down wreck with a bent frame or a bad suspension. When our automobile headlight breaks or burns out, we get it fixed immediately. The same goes for a broken or cracked windshield. Every one of us respects the hazards of cruising down the highway in vehicle that has the potential to cripple us for life, and we would not consider driving an unsafe vehicle, even around the block.

Dental hygiene practice is risky business too. Thousands of hygienists all over the country are getting hurt. Should our thinking be any different about what we "drive" in our treatment rooms? Do we risk an event at work that could change our lives as much as a head-on collision? In most cases, no. The injuries for which we are at risk in our profession may take months, if not years, to develop. Unfortunately, many hygienists consider chronic aches and pains a normal part of practicing hygiene. This acceptance of potential injuries, or, worse yet, believing that you will not get hurt practicing hygiene, is like playing chicken on the highway. Sooner or later, someone's bound to get hurt. The impact of our profession on our bodies and spirits can require thousands of dollars in therapy, completely alter a lifestyle, and, in certain cases, cause lifelong injuries.

The "I can't afford it mentality" reminds me of the person who wants to drive but is unwilling to purchase adequate insurance. We all pay the price for the lack of accountability if there is a wreck. If you want to practice safely, then you cannot afford to continue working in a hazardous environment. There are employers who will provide proper equipment, and there are also ones who won't. Have you had a frank discussion with your doctor about your long-term health and well-being? Most doctors are focused on the details of running a business and many never consider how difficult hygiene practice can be. If your requests have fallen on deaf ears, you have three choices:

• Risk getting injured
• Purchase your own equipment
• Take a hike

If I had a magic wand, I would give every dental hygienist keys to her own Diva Mobile. Then we could all cruise down the dental hygiene superhighway in the comfort zone. Why not consider a test drive in a dental hygiene Diva Mobile - a vehicle that could very well save your health and your career?

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics (www.ergosonics.com). She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at [email protected].