Dental hygiene: Traditionalist to millennials

Oct. 1, 2012
Proving that RDH Under One Roof continues to challenge us within new learning environments, keynote speaker Seth Mattison discussed ...


Proving that RDH Under One Roof continues to challenge us within new learning environments, keynote speaker Seth Mattison discussed the different generations at the conference last August. UOR continues to inspire and reinvigorate hygienists. It’s one of the few major conventions (outside our hygiene associations) aimed solely for the dental hygienist. We take home practical skills to use immediately in our careers — Seth’s lecture on generations colliding is a perfect example.

Seth Mattison delivered the keynote address on generational differences at the RDH Under One Roof conference in Las Vegas last August.


Each of us tends to be more aware of our own generation and the events that helped shape us into who we are, but what about the generations preceding and following our own? Do we understand the varied generational values and work styles? The youngest generation working today is the millennials. What is important for them? What makes them tick? Are they feeling welcome at your office or business? Fellow hygienists, we need to know this because “the millennials are 76 million strong and compose the fastest-growing segment of workers today,” according to The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace.

The buzz we hear about the millennials is due to their sheer size. They are a large generation and more than half are already working. Millennials are predicted to surpass the baby boomer generation in size. They are heavily studied and are predicted to become the next “Great Generation.”2,3 The millennials have plenty to offer: they are young, diverse, educated, technologically savvy, hard-working, and family oriented.2 However, we now have four different generations that are working side by side, and each has different viewpoints about work style and effectiveness in business. It is typical for mature generations to clash with the younger generations, and our work environment can suffer.


Seth Mattison shed some light on the potential of generations to “collide” when we do not understand generational differences. His keynote presentation at UOR was not one to miss! “Generational traits we develop early are carried with us throughout our entire lives,” he claimed. More importantly, Mattison explained that “the study of the generations is not about who is right or wrong — it is about celebrating our differences.” He informed the audience on how each generation is shaped, the specific core values those generations have, and other commonalities that clearly manifest themselves in the workplace. Understanding our generational differences is the key to creating a symbiotic work environment. I had the opportunity to ask Seth additional questions after his keynote presentation.

Ortiz: Name a few major clashes that you are seeing between the generations in the workplace. Which generation is having the most difficulty?

Mattison: Respect earned due to age is not a factor considered important among the younger generations. They feel everyone can contribute and should have “a voice.” They don’t see age as a major factor in the decision process. “Brain drain” is another problem. We are losing experience when our veteran workers leave. Lastly, social media is a major clash. Younger workers are on Facebook while doing their work – they are accustomed to multitasking. Veteran workers see this as a distraction. It is important for everyone to focus on the results. Those experiencing the most difficulty are the gen Xers. They are waiting for leadership positions to open up, but the boomers are still there.

Ortiz: How do you see the evolution and nature of delayed adulthood in the millennial generation affecting other generations?

Mattison: It’s a strain on boomers’ bank accounts.

Ortiz: What is the greatest misconception or stereotype that exists for each generation, in your opinion?

Mattison: Traditionalists, resistant to change, are stuck in their ways. Boomers fought against the institution and now they are the institution. Xers have a bad attitude at work. They are only “pushing back” because they are making sure they are doing the right thing. Millennials, it is their work ethic; they just work differently.

Ortiz: Where do you think the millennials will be in the next 10 years, and what can veteran generations do to get them there successfully?

Mattison: First, increase their leadership by using a collaborative approach. Secondly, millennials will be faced with the issue of decisiveness because now they will be making the big decisions. This is something they will have to overcome.

Ortiz: Do you think the millennials have what it takes to become the next “Great Generation”?

Mattison: The recession is the best thing that happened in terms of a reality check [for the millennials]. Everything is not just handed out to them – they have to work harder. Both of these factors may lead them to having the potential to be a great generation, but it is yet to be determined.

Ortiz: Do you have a book or project coming up?

Mattison: Yes, working on [the topic of] selling across the generations. No book title yet.

It is not surprising for each generation to conflict with other generations. In learning key trends or characteristics for all four generations, we can further balance our differences and work more cohesively with one another. More importantly, as clinicians, we can use generational study to effectively communicate with our patients. Reaching a traditionalist patient can be quite different from how we reach the millennial patient. This aspect alone benefits the clinician who knows generational differences. It enables dental hygienists to form better relationships with their patients as well as fellow employees.

RDH Under One Roof did it again. They gave us information we can immediately incorporate into our practices. I can’t wait to see what they have planned for us next year. Caesars Palace, here we come!


1. Lancaster LC, Stillman D. (2010) The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
2. Rainer TS, Rainer JW. (2011) The millennials: connecting to America’s largest generation. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
3. Wilson M, Gerber L. (2008). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with millennials. Currents in Teaching and Learning. 1(1) 29-44.

Additional Reading

Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest (2012), Sally Koslow (Great for baby boomer parents)

The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (2011), Thom and Jess Rainer

The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace (2010), Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman

Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters – Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work (2010), Megan Johnson & Larry Johnson

Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y (2009), Bruce Tulgan

When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work. (2002), Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman

The Greatest Generation (2001), Tom Brokaw


Traditionalists born prior to 1946 current age is 67+: They are very patriotic and believe in self-sacrifice. They’re loyal, both to brands and employers: they have few jobs during their careers and feel lucky to have one at all. They accept hierarchy as a norm.

Boomers born born 1946-1964prior to 1946 current age is 47-66: Boomers challenge authority and fight against institutions. They are independent, competitive, and have an insane work ethic (burnout is common). It’s important for them to learn, grow, and develop in their work environment; thus, they will continue working if still contributing.

Gen X born 1965-1981 current age is 31-46: Known as “latchkey kids,” due to working parents, media surrounded them while growing up. They are a skeptical generation and are always challenging others at work. Straightforward communication is preferred. They are keen at detecting honesty and trust. This generation is always ready for change — they keep their resumes up-to-date.

Millennials born 1982-2000 current age is 12-30: Millennials were born during the high-tech era. The majority feel they can make a difference in the world. Meaning in work is important. They prefer to be collaborative and are used to being decision-makers in their family, so they expect the same at work. As a trophy generation, they take negative feedback harshly. Mentoring is welcomed in the workplace. A life-work balance is a priority as family and friends have strong influence in their lives.

MARCY ORTIZ, RDH, BA, has been a practicing dental hygienist for 25 years, the last 16 years in a geriatric dental practice in Sun City West, Arizona. She graduated summa cum laude in integrative studies at Arizona State University in 2010. She is a member of Camelback Toastmasters in Glendale and was recently awarded 2010-11 Outstanding Area Y7 Toastmaster of the Year. She is currently working on her master’s degree in educational leadership at Northern Arizona University. Marcy can be contacted at [email protected].

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