By Anne Nugent Guignon
Geography was one of my favorite courses in grade school. Sister Mary Saint Lucien ensured that we learned about cities, states, countries, rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, and oceans. Class assignments included detailed reports about areas all over the world. We spent hours looking for information and cutting out pictures that illustrated these manuscripts.
My father was a teacher. There was always a struggle to have enough dollars flowing in to feed seven kids, so every summer he would take a three-month assignment with the United States Naval Reserve to supplement his regular income. He was a public relations genius. Speaking and writing came naturally to him. Fortunately, the Navy was always able to find a short-term assignment somewhere, so our family spent most of our summers away from Kansas City. My parents felt traveling was an important part of our education.
During the past four years, I have presented continuing education programs in 32 states. The only states that I have not visited in my life are Vermont, South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska. I've also traveled to both the east and west provinces of Canada, as well as Mexico, Belgium, and France.
Since I am a people person, love to read maps, enjoy beautiful scenery, and have a great sense of direction, traveling has added a lot of richness to my life. It is fascinating to see this country from the air. The valleys, hills, lakes, plains, rivers, mountains, deserts, forests, mesas, and oceans are spectacular. The continuous chain of cities that line the east coast are very different than the sparsely populated farm regions that cover other parts of the county.
When you are 30,000 feet above the earth, it is very easy to see why large population centers dot the shores of our country's lakes, rivers, and oceans. People and goods need reliable transportation routes.
But people are even more amazing than all of the physical beauty that Mother Nature has on display for us. Hygienists are wonderful people. We live in every part of this nation and work in all types of settings: dental offices, public health, educational facilities, research, sales, product development, and corporate positions.
Our diversity makes dental hygiene an exciting profession — more exciting than the average soul would ever imagine. Some of us are shy; others are outspoken. Some are quiet; others have voices that are loud and clear. Most of us are women but men are joining us in our battle against oral disease. Some are young; others are old. It's often hard today to tell if some hygienists are new grads or seasoned specimens. Flecks of silver or gray can be false indicators. Some of us are bored with our profession; but, to most, being a dental hygienist is a lot more than just a job.
Let us celebrate our complexity, diversity, and uniqueness. Let us be thankful for all of our talents, skills, and passions. And let us also be thankful that we are able to provide services for our patients. Most patients are grateful for our caring touch and compassion. Let us appreicate and honor all of the wonderful qualities that bind us together as a profession and as a nation.
Our dental hygiene education is the standard in our profession throughout the world. And even though one national license to practice dental hygiene is not a reality yet (and we must jump through some hoops to obtain multiple state licenses), we can still practice our profession all over the country in contrast to France and Belgium where it is not legal to practice dental hygiene.
While there are still many differences in state statues, more legislative bodies are evaluating access to care issues. The general population is raising their collective voice about wanting and needing the unique services that dental hygienists offer.
These efforts are fueled by the emerging research that supports the importance of good oral health as a foundation for overall well being. The systemic disease links are cementing the future of our profession as a critical cornerstone for health of people all over the world. The Surgeon General has taken a stand that oral disease can no longer be ignored.
We are fortunate to live in a country where we can fly from coast to coast in one day. We are free to live where we want to and practice where we wish. We chose our profession freely. We are not indentured servants or slaves. We are free to choose our own professional path, one that will bring us personal and monetary rewards.
Practicing dental hygiene will never make any of us millionaires but we receive riches in so many other ways from all of the people that we serve. This is truly our comfort zone.
Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics (www.ergosonics.com). She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at [email protected].