Those Type-A personalities!

April 21, 2005
Are dental hygienists a little hard on themselves for the "personality" they project to patients?

While casually reading an article written for dental hygienists, I came across an assertion that I have read before in other articles. The author said patients hopefully can forgive dental hygienists for being Type-A personalities. The implication was that the personality of your basic hygienist is sometimes hard to tolerate.

In the event you stumble across this edition of RDH eVillage and you're not a dental hygienist, let me elaborate. We're talking about the people who, twice a year, may "nag" at you to floss a little more often and a little more thoroughly. Dental hygienists are not:

* Terrorists threatening harm, unless you count certain species of bacteria that thrive in the oral cavity.

* Bench-warming athletes who believe a salary of less than $400,000 a year is not enough of a salary.

* Other zealots who live right here in the USA that condemn you and your lifestyle a whole lot more often than twice a year.

Dental hygienists think in terms of preventing disease; they think in terms of preventing disease that can be more costly down the road. So I end up reading an article where a hygienist almost sounds as if she is apologizing for that behavior.

I think it is sweet.

I also think there's a danger that it could be a chapter out of the "nice guys finish last" syndrome. Dr. Kent Tucker, the former president of the North Carolina Dental Association, directed part of his farewell letter taking a shot at the profession of dental hygiene.

Again, if you're not a hygienist, you need to know that the dental hygienist will try in vain to curb or prevent disease before making a general dentist, who "fixes things," aware of the disease. The hygienist typically is an employee in the office of a dentist. Presumably, the dentist is in favor of prevention too. But you would have to think that the doctor would eventually get a little bored, much like the proverbial Maytag repairman, if there was never anything to "fix."

Anyway, Dr. Tucker wrote, "... we fully expect the dental hygienists to be back in full force at the next general session in the spring. They have given notice that they expect to ask for general supervision, local anesthesia, and their own board. These are three of the items that go along with their recently announced agenda to institute an 'Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner' credential.

"As you may be aware, this 'super hygienist' would be endowed with powers that include diagnostic and restorative procedures and would come under the complete control of the hygiene organization. This is a mighty undertaking for an organization that actually represents less than 12% of their potential membership. Nevertheless, we must be prepared to resist their efforts or face the potential of a future two-tiered dental system within our state.

"I would strongly urge any dentists in NC who pay for their hygienist's membership in the hygiene organizations to consider the possible future consequences of supplementing these actions. This leads me into the arena known as 'access to care.' How we handle this socio-economic problem will go a long way in determining how we combat the hygiene intrusion into the practice of dentistry. If we fail to show our concerns, we stand a good chance of being usurped by the hygienists when they present their case to the legislature."

Whew! It sounds as if those Type-A dental hygienists are bullying dentists pretty good, doesn't it? If Americans ever decide to branch out in our vigilance against domestic violence, we might consider watching out for abused dentists.

Telltale signs your dentist has been abused by a dentist hygienist:

1.) The doctor gives up his day off and cancels country club membership to pass out toothbrushes at homeless shelters. If he starts driving a Ford or GM automobile, rush the doctor to the nearest mental health expert.

2.) The doctor says, "Your hygienist indicates that we need to take active steps to control your periodontal disease, and I agree."

3.) The word "usurp" becomes the second most common word uttered in a dental office - behind caries or cavities.

"Sorry about usurping your time, Mrs. Jones, but it's been a busy day. Did you read any interesting magazines in the waiting room?"

"Why do you say that, use the word usurp?"

"It comes from an era when we lost control of dental hygienists."


4.) The doctor nags at you about flossing more than the hygienist does. If the doctor whines, "She made me do it," call the authorities, cause we have an abused victim.

We must put a stop to the brutality exhibited by Type-A dental hygienists.

Dental hygienists, of course, know otherwise. Dentists control the regulatory agencies, can easily afford better lobbyists in legislative arenas, and generally enjoy the luxury of the public's familiarity with the occupation of dentists over the occupation of dental hygienists.

We don't want dental hygienists to finish last, do we? So the next time your dental hygienist seems almost apologetic for nagging you about your flossing habits - or the lack thereof - consider leaning over and saying, "You are such a nice lady (or guy). This is what you mean by taking 'ownership' of my health, and I don't always do a good job of it. But thanks for looking out for me, and your type-A personality is welcomed in my life anytime - not just twice a year."

Wouldn't that be sweet?