Hygienists and the media

May 1, 2010
A conversation on Amy’s list (AmyRDH.com) recently focused on the demeaning portrayal of dental hygienists in visual media.

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
[email protected]

A conversation on Amy’s list (AmyRDH.com) recently focused on the demeaning portrayal of dental hygienists in visual media. The first time I remember seeing this seemingly negative view of dental hygiene was in the sitcom “Reba.” One of my daughters loved the program and suggested I watch it. The hygienist in this weekly offering was not only the mistress, she was also a bit less than intelligent. I remember being slightly offended, but laughing just the same.

More recently, the popular movie “Avatar” included the line, “At least they didn’t send an oral hygienist.” In this case, I didn’t notice the comment until it was pointed out by a colleague. I watched the movie a second time to catch the offending passage.

Currently the discussion of our negative image on television has centered on the drama “The Good Wife.” In a March episode, one of the attorney characters commented that a young lady “would be pregnant at 17 and remain a dental hygienist the rest of her life.” RDHs e-mailed CBS and the ADHA about the lack of respect for our profession, and my own inbox was flooded with frustrated messages.

A more positive spin

I’m not one to take a “pie in the sky” view of things, but the line in “The Good Wife” could be viewed in an entirely different manner. As someone who was pregnant at 17 and will probably be an RDH the rest of my life, the comment can be one of encouragement. There is not just one path in life that leads to a career in the health-care profession, and even those of us who started off on the wrong foot can obtain a degree, join a profession, and provide support for our families. I’m aware this was not the context of the statement — just another option for perception.

It is easy to project our own definitions, emotions, and background into the words of others. When reading or listening to others it is possible to misunderstand intent, especially when our profession or values come into play. In my February 2010 column, I used the word “mean” to refer to the teaching styles of some professors. While no disrespect was intended, some was perceived.

In my vocabulary, mean is not usually a negative description. My children will tell you I was a mean mother — they had rules, curfews, and even daily chores. Now adults, my children have expressed their appreciation at an upbringing many of their peers viewed as overly restrictive.

In the article, I expressed gratitude to professors who are willing to give tests that require critical thinking. The term “mean” was merely a way of showing that my perception had changed. Face it, not many of us appreciated our difficult instructors in the moment. Our respect and appreciation grew after we entered our profession and realized that the skills we had gained from these individuals were essential. It was a matter of perception at the time — not a slam to educators in general.

I agree with Jane Weiner, RDH, in her disapproval of our profession’s portrayal on TV and in movies. Her suggestion to write to CBS and express outrage at the slur included in “The Good Wife” episode is excellent advice. This is a chance to take a stand and educate the network about our relevance in health-care delivery.

There are other times when it might be necessary to step back and consider the possibility of a tongue-in-cheek satire. Perhaps our perception is not in line with the intent of the words. Even more importantly, it is essential to realize our mistakes and apologize when insult is delivered — intended or not.

Do not let the ignorance of some television writers get you angry, and please accept this writer’s apology to educators on every level.

About the Author

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

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