Editor's Note

Oct. 1, 2012
Anonymous letters are read. They may be greeted with some skepticism, particularly if my late mother is dragged into a rant about everything ...

by Mark Hartley

Anonymous letters are read. They may be greeted with some skepticism, particularly if my late mother is dragged into a rant about everything she allegedly did wrong with my upbringing. But the letters are read.

Although we clearly prefer letters to the editor to be signed (and the letter referred to in this Editor’s Note is not printed in the Readers’ Forum), I think we realize free speech is not all that it’s cracked up to be at times. It seems like there is a headline every day about an athlete or celebrity who is ostracized for a comment made in a tweet, for example.

But I do want to elaborate on a completely anonymous letter (no clues on the envelope either) from a former hygienist who apparently now works for a dental manufacturer, or perhaps a dealer.

The letter was inspired by JoAnn Gurenlian’s column in the July 2012 issue (“Don’t Diss Hygienists”). Gurenlian wrote about assisting a dental hygiene school to locate exhibitors for a program highlighted by her lecture. “Nothing, nada, niets, niente, rien, ingenting, gar nichts,” she wrote about the response from dental manufacturers. She made the calls, and nothing happened. No returned phone calls. Nothing.

The same thing may cross your mind as it did mine: Many dental manufacturers want to talk with dental hygiene students only after they graduate. That may seem unfair. Maybe you logically think that dental manufacturers should begin developing brand loyalty upon a dental hygiene student’s birth. It is what it is. Dental manufacturers want to be your best buddy the day you start treating patients with a license. If it makes anyone feel better, the same truths also apply to dental students, for the most part.

The anonymous author, though, wanted to include practicing hygienists in her “peek into the life” of a dental manufacturer:

  • “We ... encounter hygienists that are too busy to take a minute or two to learn about the product we are introducing. We hear ‘Leave a sample and we’ll look at it later’ more often than not.”
  • “We do association meetings and study clubs, spending hundreds of dollars for the privilege ... and are ignored by the very people who ‘invited’ us to sponsor them.”
  • “My company allows me to provide free CE credits to hygienists ... Unfortunately, I am frequently treated like an afterthought or an inconvenience...”

The same thing may cross your mind as it did mine: The economy is a bummer. Fewer dental patients translate into less of a need to update office inventory quite so frequently. It is what it is. When consumers demand dental services, guess who dental professionals are going to call?

The first page of the letter elaborated on the bullet points above. The second page offered several excellent suggestions from the author about improving the relationships between manufacturers and dental professionals.

At this point, I declare to the author: Either sign the letter, or write an article for RDH (and the latter is extended to any dental manufacturer that thinks it has insightful tips about how to interact at their booth during a dental conference).

Let’s get an ugly truth out of the way. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Exhibitors have to sell their products in order to take home the bacon. We can quibble over the quantity, but that’s not the point. It’s called earning a living. It is what it is. There’s nothing evil about what dental manufacturers do. You just have to sort through the pitches and decide what’s relevant. You already did that for the home appliance you recently bought.

Some dental manufacturers have decided to cut costs by not exhibiting at major dental meetings, let alone Gurenlian’s presumably off-the-beaten-path dental hygiene school.

So, while you are waiting for your employer to ask your opinion about products to purchase (Should you wait?) ... while you wait for the phones to start ringing to schedule appointments (Should you wait? Most practice management consultants recommend being more aggressive about overdue patients) ... while you wait for your colleague to get out of the seminar, step into the exhibit hall and stay on top of the products you recommend or dispense to patients. Ask questions in order to be prepared when you do make purchases. Manufacturers do deserve the courtesy of you acquiring knowledge about what they do.

Mark Hartley
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