Congratulations! Dental hygiene can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
Dentistry is currently going through a transition because one third of people in the workforce are changing careers or retiring.1 To help close the gap between those leaving the field and those entering, Jackie Sanders called for mentorship and guidance from the community.2 Fortunately, there are many hygienists who love the profession, fight hard to move the industry forward, and are ready to provide support. Here’s some advice to help you get started in your new career.
A professor once shared that it could take two years in practice before you felt proficient in instrumentation. Allow yourself the opportunity to grow. As science shifts, we must move with it. For example, the pandemic pushed aerosol containment to the forefront. Our training never stops.
Be a survivor
Twenty years ago, my nemesis was a stool from the ‘80s that was triggering my back problems. I met Anne Guignon, the comfort guru, at a conference, and this led to her article titled “Birth of a survivor.” She wrote, “The first step is that Holly needs to realize she must take care of herself before she can care for others to the fullest extent and without pain. The second step is for her to understand that she controls much more about how she practices than she ever realized.”3
Want to read more advice for the new grad? Job-hunting tips for new dental hygiene grads
Be your own savior
Don’t be a victim of bad equipment or wait for the dentist to fix it. Anne opened my eyes to make changes where I was able. I talk with my 80-year-old future self about how I want to feel, and my future self wins every time. I’ve ditched my chair and I love the freedom of working in the 3 o’clock position on the lowers without indirect supervision. New loupe designs allow for straight posture. Among other ergonomic advisors, Angela Grover recommends hearing protection. Stephanie Botts said on social media that “we deserve to be happy, healthy, and functional, not bummed out because of pain.”4 Talk to your reps and test equipment until it feels right. Invest in yourself because you’re worth it.
Be an inventor
Patients will give you 10 reasons why they can’t do something. Tweak hygiene products to fit your patients’ needs so that they can do something. Create PowerPoint slides with slides of some of your before-and-after patient. Film videos of oral hygiene instruction and put them on YouTube for patients to watch. They will feel your enthusiasm.
A comfortable patient is easier to treat. Invite them into your operatory like you would to your home. Offer sunglasses, pillows, and blankets. Write down their preferences. They’ll remember that you listened.
You will interact with many diverse personalities. It’s best to keep politics and religion discussions out of the operatory so as not to inadvertently offend anyone. Patients will carry their stress and fear into the office. If you can build trust, you will win a friend for life. Patients will look to you for a shoulder to cry on, and some days you will need their shoulder. They’ll be one of your greatest advocates.
Be a hygiene ally
The scales of supply and demand have tipped in our favor. We deserve to be treated fairly and paid accordingly. Dentists have been sharing their frustrations lately about the increasing costs of running a business, and whether they’ll be able to continue to grow and survive.5 Backing dentists into a corner can be dangerous. We’ve got to work together. Amber Auger’s January 2023 RDH article points to the need for a win-win on both sides. “Collaborating and seeing one another's perspectives is what will change dentistry forever.”6
There is strength in numbers. Dentistry is where it is today because of the efforts of our predecessors. Angela Grover urges us to think about ADHA membership. “It’s hands down one of the most significant memberships you can invest in for your career success.”7 I served on our state board when Florida was thinking about dissolving certain hygiene duties. I saw in our delegation the magic of many voices with a purpose. It’s time for us to gather in numbers, protect our position, and help the profession grow.
Be a team player
“Prima donna.” I have scrubbed all manner of mouths, as well as bodily fluids off floors, to try to erase those thoughts from team members' minds. There’s never been a more critical time to fight the prima donna stereotype. Take care of your work family and show them that they are valued.
Keep your standards high. Practice hand hygiene. You may work in places where others do not take infection control as seriously as you. Speak up, and remember your hygiene oath.
Breaking out of your comfort zone teaches you to be courageous. I love when I get to assist with endodontics and oral surgery on Fridays, if only to sharpen my hygiene diagnostic skills. Say yes to new opportunities. One of my favorite yeses was to RDH Evolution. Attending events can serve as a lifeline if you’re feeling lonely and can remind you that others may feel the same. You’re never alone.
Dental hygienists are a community of dynamic and brilliant individuals who are ready to change lives. We’re here to share what we’ve learned with you, new grads, but we’re also here to grow with you. Reach out to us. You have a big journey ahead. We look to you to join us in our mission to make people healthy. Welcome, my friends.
- Lanthier T. 2023 Salary Survey Report: The State of the RDH Career. RDHmag. February 2, 2023. Accessed February 18, 2023. https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/article/14287331/2023-salary-survey-report-the-state-of-the-rdh-career
- Sanders J. Editors note. RDH 2023, January/February. https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/inspiration/article/14287187/forward-momentum-to-start-the-new-year
- Guignon A. Birth of a survivor. RDHmag.com. August 1, 2003. Accessed February 18, 2023. https://www.rdhmag.com/home/article/16409682/birth-of-a-survivor
- polishedposture. Instagram post February 14, 2023. Accessed February 25, 2023. https://www.instagram.com/reel/Coqhfj-JREi/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
- Holmes A. How to protect or even grow profit margins during times of high inflation. Dentaleconomics. January 19, 2023. Accessed February 25, 2023. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/macro-op-ed/op-ed/article/14286911/how-to-protector-even-growprofit-margins-during-times-of-high-inflation
- Auger A. When it comes to your career, are you the problem? RDHmag. January 24, 2023. Accessed February 18, 2023. https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/inspiration/article/14288676/when-it-comes-to-your-career-are-you-the-problem
Grover A. Welcome to your new career: advice for recently licensed hygienists. RDHmag. October 24, 2022. Accessed February 19, 2023. https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/inspiration/article/14284665/welcome-to-your-new-career-advice-for-recently-licensed-hygienists