My homework assignment

July 1, 2005
A homework assignment prompted me to read again the very first issue of RDH magazine.

A homework assignment prompted me to read again the very first issue of RDH magazine. The job doesn’t require me to do this very often. In fact, I’m not sure if Volume One from 1981-82 has been removed from the shelf for several years.

However, it was good to revisit the January 1981 issue. I read Irene Woodall’s first editorial. (For those of you who graduated after 1992, Woodall was the magazine’s senior editor throughout the first decade until she suffered an aneurysm during the 1992 Christmas holiday season.)

Most of the first editorial was a mixture of political commentary (Woodall was relentless in her pursuit of a profession that is self-regulated) and a “welcome to the magazine” salutation.

Her political spins in that 1981 editorial focused on:

• Dental hygiene schools spew out more graduates than the market can sustain, driving down salaries.

• The American Dental Association controls the dental hygiene profession.

Doesn’t sound like much has changed, does it? She also referred to how dental equipment has “modernized” the profession. She did not identify what equipment, although an advertisement for Dentsply’s Prophy-Jet was on the next page.

Improved working conditions “are probably most noticeable as an area of positive change,” according to RDH’s first editor.

Funny, I just got off the phone with a hygienist who said her employer was discarding her like a used paper towel. After 30 years of employment with the doctor, she was physically breaking down and heading for surgery for her occupational injuries. According to her, the doctor was bringing out the broom to sweep her out with the rest of the overnight trash.

Kristine Hodsdon published an article about a similar situation in a recent issue of RDH eVillage. It was the same sort of thing. Hygienist gets booted out, except in this case the doctor wasn’t going to pay for vacation time earned prior to the dismissal. So she had to hire a lawyer to get it.

Occupational injuries in dentistry continue to aggravate me.

Another sentence from Irene’s editorial grabbed my attention. Remember, if the deadline patterns are what I remember them to be, then she likely wrote the editorial in the latter part of November 1980, probably around Thanksgiving.

Woodall said, “Whether a seasoned practitioner or a novice in the field, we all probably cherish the strides we have made, regardless of how they are measured and hope for better times when the challenge and rewards of being a dental hygienist are unquestionably optimal.”

What would happen if I asked a random group of hygienists about Irene’s 25-year-old comment on the profession? I’m sure a certain percentage would say the challenges of a lifelong career in dental hygiene are not worth it. The career leads to burnout. The career is not very fulfilling. Dentists are more interested in the bottom line than they are in health care. And so forth.

It’s the other group who make me optimistic. Dentistry is one exciting place to be, according to this group.

The profession has created numerous opportunities that eliminate the feeling of being trapped in the role of “cleaning lady.” While a few of these positions are very competitive, such as corporate employment in dental manufacturing or consulting, there are so many unique things that hygienists do these days to fulfill the desire to branch out. Even in clinical hygiene where the word diagnosis still spurs debate, the dental community recognizes more than ever the importance of including dental hygienists in the diagnostic process.

On a personal level, the issue of “isolation” used to be a big deal. A dental hygienist would go for weeks without seeing or talking to another hygienist (even longer in some cases, if they did not belong to the professional association). The online bulletin boards, chat rooms, Web sites, etc., changed all of that. If you’re not networking daily with your peers in the profession, it’s because you prefer to be a hermit.

So, yeah, I believe Irene would be very proud of the strides you have made. She would also probably keep challenging you to keep pushing forward. But I think she would feel a sense of satisfaction that her editorials from the 1980s accomplished something.

Things have changed. If you don’t believe me, try reading an “old” issue of RDH sometime.

For those of you heading to the RDH Under One Roof conference later this month in Chicago, I look forward to seeing you there.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].