The ball is in your court: A healthy career in dentistry is really your choice

June 18, 2016
Anne Guignon reminds dental hygienists that a healthy career in dentistry is solely the choice of the practitioner.


Unless you've been hiding underneath a rock, most of us are aware that the employment landscape in dental hygiene has changed dramatically over the past decade. I hear complaints all of the time about saturated job markets, too many dental hygiene schools, and dismal employment conditions.

Many of us who graduated over 20 years ago started our careers in small, individual dental practices where we had much more control over how we delivered patient care. But the shift to larger practices-often with big corporate umbrellas-is making it harder and harder for a solo dentist to keep the doors open and still maintain a viable business.

Throughout the years I've had the pleasure of presenting programs about ergonomics and career sustainability to dental hygiene students all over the country. While most students are under a lot of stress, they are curious about their futures and eager to discover strategies that will help them get a job once they have an RDH after their name. They want and need employment to get on with life and to pay back student loans.

Since I'm not particularly fond of sugarcoating messages, some people find my observations about employment to be disturbing. Telling people what they want to hear, though, if it is not based on reality, does not sit well with me.

During the school programs, I encourage student hygienists to consider purchasing their own equipment, strive to find a dental home that matches their personal values, and be prepared to be a contributing member in the dental office, reminding them that a thriving business is the cornerstone for any future raises or acquisition of new equipment. Occasionally, a faculty member will raise an eyebrow at the suggestion of owning equipment, but long gone are the days when most offices will grant our every wish.

Several months ago, I had a very interesting chat with a dentist and his wife, who is a hygienist, at the Chicago Midwinter Dental Meeting. They were in the midst of purchasing a saddle stool for the young hygienist who had recently joined their practice. It was obvious that they both appreciated their new employee and were willing to provide her with what she needs to stay healthy and happy while treating patients.

As the conversation progressed, the doctor and his wife shared why they were willing to hire a brand new graduate in favor of a more seasoned candidate. Their answer validated what I share with students. The new employee's attitude was upbeat and focused on how to blend in as well has how to help their practice grow. Both were very impressed that the new graduate not only had her own loupes and light, but that she is also a member of her local ADHA component and wanted to ensure that she would be able to attend professional continuing education meetings.

From their vantage point, everything she did pointed to professional commitment.

So what lessons can a seasoned hygienist take from this story? First of all, there are some very good employers out there who would be delighted to have you join their practice. Dentistry, though, is a business. Quite honestly, so are we in a more informal sense.

It's time we quit digging our heels in about purchasing equipment such as loupes. Nearly every dentist uses loupes at this point. So if you're not wearing them, they know what you're missing. And, yes, you will be missing a lot of pathology without magnification, and many now consider it the standard of care. In addition, the biggest benefit of using a properly fitted pair is improving your posture.

If you've tried loupes or a headlight and were unsuccessful, try again. Remember, you get what you pay for. Cheap loupes and lights are made with cheap components and can't deliver the same experience or clinical outcome as a high-quality product. From a financial perspective, companies that make high-quality, custom magnification loupes typically have interest-free payment plans, offer flexible trial periods, and have reasonable warranty terms.

Bottom line, it's your body and your career. What are you willing to do to ensure that your professional career is healthy, productive, personally satisfying and stimulating, and financially rewarding? The ball's in your court. RDH

Tax benefits for professional equipment

Understanding the tax benefits is another aspect of the financial equation involving the purchase of professional equipment. Workers who do not receive reimbursement for items purchased for use in the employment setting, such as loupes, uniforms, a saddle stool, etc., are eligible to deduct the cost of such items on their individual income tax form, providing they file a long form.

The list of deductible items also includes tuition for continuing education courses, travel costs to attend such events, instruments, disposable supplies such as gloves or facemasks, ultrasonic scalers and inserts, clinical books and professional magazine subscriptions, and hearing protection devices.

Check with a qualified tax professional for personal advice on your particular situation.

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, 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, and can be contacted at [email protected].