Calm thoughts

July 1, 2007
My family instructs our dogs to “think calm thoughts” at moments when they need to, well, calm down.

by Mark Hartley

My family instructs our dogs to “think calm thoughts” at moments when they need to, well, calm down. As the chiefs of security, they bark at shadows during the suspenseful conclusions of TV programs. They nap all day, yet want to chase the ball at the exact moment you stretch out on the couch.

“Think calm thoughts, Stella.”

“Think calm thoughts, Seattle.”

If Stella and Seattle could bark back, they would tell me, “Think calm thoughts, Mark.” For personal health reasons, I need to dedicate the July 2007 Editor’s Note to calm thoughts.

I can’t think, “If only the ADA/ADHA/AGD/AAP did this, then ...” I can’t think, “If only PennWell (publishers of RDH) did this, then ...” I can’t think, “If only my wife/son/daughter did this, then ...”

I can’t get stressed out about problems at work or on the home front.

But I can think about my oldest son getting married. Although weddings are often stressful, this June wedding was just a civil ceremony, conducted mainly to resolve the visa hassles of living and working together abroad. The pomp and circumstance of a church wedding will occur next year during one of the newlyweds’ return trips to the United States.

We made a fuss over the civil ceremony anyway, hosting family and friends for a small reception. The bride’s parents came up from central Texas. They brought up their experience of visiting Tulsa occasionally (driving 70 miles per hour through the city en route to St. Louis). I naturally had to bring up the nine months I lived in the Austin area as a young man. I spent many afternoons floating down the rivers of the Hill Country.

You want to talk about calm thoughts? Nothing like lazy afternoons “tubing” down lazy Texas rivers.

Then I got ambitious and went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. I spent my college days thinking, “If President Nixon/Ford/Carter had done this, then ...” “If the government would just do this, then journalists could ...” “If the college administration wouldn’t be so unfair, then ...”

Whew! It’s amazing how quickly calm thoughts leave us. As an outsider constantly peering in, here are my perceptions of how calm thoughts flee at daybreak before another shift of dentistry:

• It hurts. Although experts in occupational health have emerged in dental hygiene, we still encounter way too many hygienists who are well on their way to being crippled by the job. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is completely unacceptable? The aforementioned experts have some good ideas on preserving your physical well-being. RDH publishes Anne Guignon’s articles about occupational health issues, but there are other good ones out there. Pay attention to what they say.

• On the fringe. The money’s nice. There are, however, two things wrong with your stature as a top wage-earner. First, if you can’t cure periodontal disease in 30 minutes and convince all future brides to get veneers, what good are you? Sometimes the $35 an hour isn’t worth some of the unrealistic expectations. But you bear with it and work hard until it’s time to recharge the batteries and take a vacation (a good thing for occupational health, by the way). So what do you do? Call in sick, of course, since vacations are a joke in dental hygiene. The money’s nice, but dentistry needs to work harder on the complete package. Stop making fringe benefits such a guessing game for one of dentistry’s most important careers.

• Respect. Should respect be a part of the “complete package?” There’s nothing quite like grinding your way through a grueling education - where instructors warn you lives are at stake if you mess up - then having the lords of your career view you as just a cleaning lady without any worthwhile opinions.

This leads us to the final way to banish calm thoughts among dental hygienists ...

• Boarded the wrong boat? A hygienist said goodbye to me recently. She’s not the first, won’t be the last. She concluded her remarks with yet another common comment about embarking on a new career, “I will always have hygiene to fall back upon.”

Why is dental hygiene too often something to “fall back upon” if something else doesn’t work out? Can patients, doctors, and the rest of us even imagine the stress levels of so many hygienists who contemplate leaving dead-end careers where they have to call in sick to get a day off? Even if you have not considered a career change, do you want your profession to be thought of as something people “fall back upon?”

Think calm thoughts. The dental profession needs all of its workers to be in a good frame of mind.