Cruising on the high-tech road

Oct. 1, 2005
It is always a real thrill to learn about and work with equipment that helps dental hygienists be more effective while creating a safer working environment.

It is always a real thrill to learn about and work with equipment that helps dental hygienists be more effective while creating a safer working environment. Function, form, safety, and comfort are at the top of my list. When it comes to dental hygiene equipment, I know a lot about current products. Automobiles, however, are an entirely different matter.

The inevitable finally happened one month ago - the service engine light on the dashboard of my geriatric car lit up. I took it in for a diagnostic work-up. The dismal news was predictable, took up a page of paper, and read like the medical report on a 97-year-old whose body is falling apart from multiple chronic illnesses. It was time to buy a new car.

Form, function, safety, and reliability were top considerations - just as they are when it’s time to buy a new piece of dental equipment. Today’s car manufacturers have added amazing engineering improvements to the horseless carriage. Despite my expertise with current technology trends, especially in dentistry, the gadgets and gimmicks on new cars came as a shock. By now, those of you who are automobile-savvy are probably laughing yourselves silly. But I think dealers should have special CE courses for auto technology. After a lot of research, and a few key test-drives, I settled on a reportedly safe and reliable year-old car.

So, what does this experience have to do with dental hygiene? Getting up to speed with new car technology seems to parallel what many dental professionals face today. All we need to do is look at all of the information that comes in our monthly periodicals. The advertisements alone are enough to make one dizzy. Not to mention the avalanche of material that we get buried under every time we attend a professional meeting or log on to an Internet dental site to find material that we hope will bring us up to speed.

Even if you graduated only a year ago, your knowledge base about current technical advances in dental hygiene practice is probably already woefully outdated. This statement stems not from arrogance but rather from this observation: How does one cope effectively with change in an information-based, wired, instantly connected society?

Information and technology are entering our lives at warp speed. So, there are three choices. One, keep up-to-date; two, get a great pair of earplugs that will block out any new information; or three, move to an island that has never heard of Alexander Graham Bell and postage stamps.

It is our professional obligation to keep up with change. We must sort through the hype and utilize new innovations if we are to deliver better patient care. Therefore, it is just as important to exercise our professional skills and judgment regarding product selection as it is to determine the dental hygiene diagnosis for each patient in our treatment room.

Yes, it is all about patient care. But to take care of the patient, we need to also take care of ourselves. In doing so, we take better care of those who trust us to provide the best dental hygiene possible. This means investing in our careers and ourselves.

So, is this lofty goal possible? Yes, I believe it is, especially if you break your care procedures down into individual segments. Here are some examples. Are you using the same prophy paste, sealant material, or ultrasonic scaler inserts that you used in school? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you are not working with the most effective or efficient products.

Do you acquiesce to the wishes of the person in your office that orders supplies? What if their focus is strictly the bottom line, and you are asked to use the least expensive product possible? What is your response when you know of products and technologies that would better serve the patient? If you are taking the time to learn about such products and technologies, then you have the responsibility to share that knowledge with others in your office.

Was what you learned in college the end of your education? Ask any successful person this question. Inevitably, they will tell you that college was only the beginning of their education. They will suggest you do your own research and learn how to use new technologies, ask hard questions, and try out new products. In doing so, you will become an informed and empowered dental hygiene consumer. It is never enough to just practice with what you learned in school. Both you and your patients deserve so much more.

Fall is the perfect time to shake up old habits and take in new information. Continuing education courses are given every weekend. Many have exhibit halls where you can put your hands on new products, participate in actual demonstrations, and even get a handful of samples to try in your own dental hygiene practice. Sure, it takes time and effort to go to meetings, to thoroughly read journals, and to learn to use something new. But these efforts always pay off - even if it’s just bringing some excitement back into our daily clinical routines.

Technology is a funny word. Imagine how Irene Newman or Dr. Alfred Fones would have defined dental hygiene a century ago - porte polishers, hand scalers, white uniforms and caps worn by standing operators who arrived at work either walking or with a horse and buggy.

Today, we sit, wear scrubs, view the world through illuminated magnification loupes, and scale with sophisticated adjustable ultrasonic scalers. We arrive in automobiles that have air conditioning, heat, built-in concert halls, and automatic gear shifting. Wouldn’t you just love to share our professional advancements with Ms. Newman and Dr. Fones?

Cars change. Dental equipment changes. Science and technology continue to shift forward. Yes, it’s hard to switch gears, look in the rearview mirror, and still keep your eyes on the road ahead. But unless you want to get stuck in an ever more antiquated comfort zone, I suggest you keep moving - and enjoy learning to work with new technologies.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is an international speaker, has published numerous articles, and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas, since 1971. You can reach her at [email protected] or (713) 974-4540 and her Web site is