A peaceful demand

April 1, 2010
Dental hygienists want to be considered health-care providers. We desire to be respected and viewed as part of the patient care team  ...

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
[email protected]

Dental hygienists want to be considered health-care providers. We desire to be respected and viewed as part of the patient care team — admirable and expected goals in my opinion. As health-care providers, we provide diagnosis, treatment, and preventive care to the public, and it is not too much to be recognized for these roles. In fact, it is high time we demand to be listed alongside others who promote and improve health.

While I agree with the above paragraph and hope to see it come true in the near future, let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. There are reasons dental hygienists do not always receive the respect deserved — and sometimes those reasons point at us.

It is not uncommon in the medical community for providers to have consultations. Primary care providers consult with surgeons, specialists, nurses, and therapists. From my personal experience, I know that my surgeon consulted with other providers concerning my medications and proposed treatment. Egos appeared to be put aside as all worked for a common outcome — a phenomenon not always found in the dental side of health care.

It is not uncommon for a call to be required to a specialist’s office to ask for patient charting and treatment notes. Conversely, many general practices fail to share information with specialists after the initial referral. If our common goal is eradicating infection and maintaining health for the patient, why is routine sharing so uncommon?

Blood pressure screening, probing health questions, and medication review are a part of every trip to a medical provider. At my HMO, you can’t even get a flu shot without blood pressure screening first. Providing those same screenings in the dental office go a long way to showing our roles as health-care providers (needless to say, this short activity also saves lives).

A protest over exclusion

Public perception is essential to being viewed as players on the health-care team. Dental hygienists should be aware of opportunities to educate about our role in disease prevention and take action when our position is downplayed or outright dismissed. A great example of speaking up is Debbye Krueger, RDH, BS, MAADH. Her story touched me, as I am sure it will my readers.

Debbye is living with leukemia/lymphoma and was trying to register online to walk as a survivor in her local Relay for Life. In order to sign up, she had to fill out a personal profile, and was dismayed to see that there was every professional title listed except RDH! The list included lawyer, pastor, LPN, DDS, DMD, RN, and a long list of others, but no RDH. Insult was added because Debbye has served on several ACS Boards over the years and even won an award from them, as a hygienist, for work she had done on oral cancer screening in Raleigh.

She immediately e-mailed and voiced her disappointment over the exclusion. The organizers apologized for the “oversight” and are fixing the omission.

If Debbye had not taken the time to voice her concern, the problem would have never been addressed, much less fixed. She firmly believes if more hygienists took pride in their profession, took a deep breath, and spoke up, we might get more recognition as the health-care providers we are instead of being quietly overlooked. In her words, “Rosa Parks and the students who staged the sit-ins at the nearby Woolworth’s lunch counter had the right idea. Just very peacefully demand to be recognized for who we are and what we have to contribute to society.”

Dental hygienists deserve recognition as health-care providers — no disputing that fact. However, it is our responsibility to earn respect and our obligation to play nicely on the team. Take blood pressure, stay current on systemic/oral connections, and above all, speak up and take a stand when the situation requires it.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a company dedicated to the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics.

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