A Gift Only You Can Give

It’s that time of year where even the most laid-back environment takes on a more frenetic pace.

By Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

It’s that time of year where even the most laid-back environment takes on a more frenetic pace. The holiday hustle and bustle chews up every extra second in the day for most of us as we frantically look for the right gift for each person on our list.

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While the focus is often on the most glitzy package (so carefully wrapped) it almost seems like a sin to untie the carefully crafted bow and tear off the elegant wrappings. In today’s world, every waking second is bombarded with some kind of demand on our time or attention. It’s hard to get away from cell phones, text messages, emails, and social media in general. So rather than extravagant purchases, why not give something only you can afford to do — a gift of your time and attention to those that make your life better. It really doesn’t matter when you give this gift, just that you make a conscious effort.

Several months ago, I was traveling in the Midwest and made plans to have dinner with a young dental hygienist who lived in the area. Saying she lived in the area is a very liberal interpretation of the facts. Actually, she lives 90 minutes away from where we planned to meet. After working in clinical all day, our dinner together was her focus for the evening. We had a delightful time, laughing and sharing all things dental hygiene.

She has only practiced for eight years — a rather short period of time compared to my 41 years, but I learned some valuable lessons that night. During the dinner, I recounted a recent incident where it suddenly dawned on me that it was critical to study a person’s hand geometry before making a recommendation regarding home care devices or routines. About a month earlier, while I was working with a company rep that I know well, I blurted out, “Bet you don’t floss, do you?” The remark was based on the size and shape of his hand. Startled, he shot back, “Are you kidding, with these big paws and fingers shaped like short, fat sausages, there is no way I can get my fingers in my mouth!”

While I’ve always instinctively understood that conditions like arthritis impacted a person’s ability to use devices that require fine dexterity, I’m not sure that I always make a conscious effort to study the size of the hand. My young dinner mate laughed at my admission. She said she had learned that little tidbit in her first month clinic at her dental hygiene school. As a zealous new student, she approached her father, a farmer for decades, about the importance of using dental floss. Her Dad quickly put her in her place, announcing that flossing was out of the question given the size of his hands. That spring night we gave each other many gifts — time, respect, laughs, and insight. It was a mini-mentoring session that will remain etched in both of our memories.

Saying thank you or taking time to tell someone how much you appreciate them or what they do is another very powerful and underutilized gift. When I travel, there’s always a little bag of gifts in my suitcase. On the surface, travel may seem exotic, but there are dozens of things that can impact any trip. Outside of weather and other events under the control of Mother Nature, individual people can make or break your day.

A number of years ago, I came up with a simple way to give a special thank-you to shuttle bus drivers, flight attendants, bellmen, hotel agents, housekeeping personnel, restaurant servers, sky caps, and anyone else who crosses my path with a kind, thoughtful gesture. Many take these people for granted. Yes, they are doing their job, but often they do not earn much money, much less a sincere thank you. Often, these people are very powerful in their own world. For example, there is a world of difference between a hotel room right across from the ice machine or right above a noisy club vs. one at the end of a quiet hallway.

About five years ago, I came up with the idea of Anne’s Toothbrush Club. Okay, I know it sounds corny, but it works. With every act of kindness I let the person pick their favorite colored toothbrush bundled with a tongue cleaner, high-tech toothpicks and a $2 bill.

The responses to the toothbrush are priceless and all over the map. “How did you know I needed one? I was going to buy one today.” “Wow, that’s cool! This is the first time I’ve ever been given a gift like this.” This unexpected gift generates laughs, grins, smiles, and even an occasional tear over the supposed luck associated with the $2 bill. This little way of recognizing quality service has resulted in unexpected and appreciated perks on the road. Typically, people remember the dental goodies on future visits, and they often tell me how much they appreciated this unique gift.

Taking time with each other and saying thanks are gifts that only you can give and go along way to creating a unique comfort zone for the lucky recipients. Speaking of saying thank you, I appreciate every one of you who reads this column. You are the reason for its existence. Happy holidays! RDH

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biof lms,
power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.

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