Life outside of hygiene!

March 1, 2012
People assume we are our profession. If someone is a doctor, others assume a discussion on the latest medical news is appropriate ...

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

People assume we are our profession. If someone is a doctor, others assume a discussion on the latest medical news is appropriate, or if someone is a dental professional, other people believe we eat, drink, and sleep teeth. The truth is that we have lives outside the oral cavity. The Internet offers us a look into the diversified lives of our colleagues.

At, we learn how our own Cathy Seckman, RDH, divides her working life into several categories. She is an indexer, writer, speaker, and dental hygienist. All areas require focus and attention to detail, but in my mind, indexing seems the most intense. Cathy’s writing is well known to RDH readers, and her first young adult novel, “Weirdo World,” has received a five star rating on I have the novel on my Kindle ready for my next plane ride.

In 2006, Fran Chuba, RDH, painted a watercolor of my shoes, which now hangs above my fireplace. The painting was auctioned off at a Napa Dental Experience meeting, and my coworker outbid everyone in order to give it to me as a gift. The following year, she produced an equally stunning work of Esther Wilkins’ favorite shoes. It is an understatement to say I am a fan of Fran’s work. I witnessed her amazing talent at a meeting when she created several flower pictures in less than an hour — and each one is individual, beautiful, and graces my own website. Visit Fran’s page at to view some of this wonderful talent for yourself. My family looks forward to special occasions when they receive a Frances Chuba notecard from me.

As dental professionals and public educators, communication skills are essential to our goals. As with any science, communication standards and styles change with the addition of new research and enhanced learning opportunities. Toni S. Adams, RDH, MA, is my expert on all things communication. Her website at is somewhat dental, but it still fits my definition of another role outside dental hygiene. Everyone can learn from Toni’s knowledge. I strongly suggest you order and read her brief book series. If every health-care student had access to these books, we would graduate not only good practitioners, but also excellent communicators.

Tobey, RDH, from Oceanside, NY, (who does not use her last name on the website) introduced me to Reading her experience on the “about” page was a moving and educational experience. Until visiting the site, I had never heard of a previvor. Spending some time here learning about the BRCA gene’s relationship to breast and ovarian cancers will help all women make informed decisions about their own health care regarding prevention and diagnostic testing. Previvors and Survivors is a nonprofit organization that provides support, skills, and resources for women who are dealing with the difficult decisions surrounding BRCA, hereditary breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. The pages are filled with critical information, touching and inspiring stories, and ways each of us can become involved in helping affected women and families. Please do not leave the site without reading Tobey’s story and sharing it with at least one other woman. It is information we cannot afford to overlook.

Last week a patient asked me about my plans “after my hygiene skills no longer served me well.” When I questioned him, I found out he believes dental hygiene skills are specific and not used outside the operatory. Sadly, some of my colleagues share his view. Lynn Gardiner is a perfect example of the fallacy of one-dimensional education. In describing her work with People and Paws (, Lynn shared how dentistry has given her skills that translate well into other fields. This nonprofit search team headed by Lynn and her husband combines people and dogs who search for lost, trapped, or incapacitated subjects.

Health history reviewing skills are essential in this work. Lynn knows to look for conditions, medications, and recent changes in behavior and health. Thanks to her dental training, details sometimes overlooked by law enforcement are more obvious to Lynn. Consulting with other experts and incorporating their recommendations into locating a person is vital, especially when searching for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Consulting is another skill taught in dental hygiene education. Lynn states, “This is one category that has concerned me for years. After seeing a pattern of where we were finding individuals (often attracted to water and drowning) about seven years ago, I decided to find an expert — Kimberly Kelly from Project Far from Home in San Diego. She consulted with us on two searches to tell us what people would or would not do and how they would or would not react. I have asked her to teach a course to law enforcement twice a year for two years.”

Organizational skills, rational thinking, research, and looking at all possible paths to a positive result are skills that transfer between dentistry and this field of work. Sharing skills and educating the public are part of Lynn’s work in People and Paws, as she arranges trainings and education for law enforcement, dog handlers, and community groups. The website and this article barely touch on the complex work done by Lynn and her team. I look forward to learning more from her and sharing more details and stories, or better yet, hearing Lynn speak to dental professionals interested in hearing how our skills can be used outside the office.

Dental hygiene is a profession, and even part of who we are as a group, yet the term does not define us completely. Next time you meet a colleague, ask about his or her life outside of hygiene. Entwined with the stories of family, pets, and travel will be a kaleidoscope of adventures, courage, and talent.

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