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Cultured communication

Nov. 1, 2006
When I investigate speakers to interview for this column, I look at programs and speakers from across the country.

When I investigate speakers to interview for this column, I look at programs and speakers from across the country. I also consider the suggestions of others about a particular program they recently attended and enjoyed. This month I will focus on Toni Adams, RDH, BA, of California. Toni’s programs focus on her background in communication, which hit home for me because I just finished a master’s course on communication. The topics Toni discusses in her two favorite programs, “The Tap Dance of Communication” and “Becoming Cultured: Comprehending a Variety of Values, Views and Voices,” are areas we had discussed in class, so I was anxious to see how her programs balanced with my class.

Toni’s goals and objectives for “Tap Dance” include:

  • Understanding the role of non-verbal communication in dental hygiene practice
  • Understanding of the basic concepts of non-verbal communication
  • Being aware of incoming and outgoing non-verbal communication
  • Toni Adams, RDH
    Click here to enlarge image
    According to one source Toni uses for her program, the majority of our communication is conveyed through channels other than verbal, and much of this is sent unintentionally. She points out that it is important to know what we as hygienists are “saying” to our co-workers and patients, and what they may be “telling” us.Toni discusses not only the obvious signs of non-verbal communication, but other aspects of communication such as kinetics (body movement), chronemics (use of time), proxemics (space and distance), hapatics (touch), eye contact and listening. Non-verbal communication occurs whether or not a person realizes it. It needs to be understood and addressed so that effective communication occurs at all levels.In her “Cultured” program, Toni focuses on:
  • Increasing the understanding of culture’s influence on communication in health settings, particularly dental practices
  • Increasing cultural self-awareness
  • Enhancing intercultural communication skills
  • Intercultural communication is an important area to understand in dentistry. In today’s global economy, it makes good business sense to understand and foster trust among the culturally diverse populations that hygienists encounter. For example, some members of the Hmong culture believe that caries is caused by “a small bug with a big red head that gets into the tooth, and the only way to kill it is by pulling the tooth, crushing it and throwing it into the fire!”The Hmong (pronounced “mong”) are an ancient minority culture that began in China and migrated to the mountainous regions of Laos. They are credited with giving American troops enormous help during the Vietnam War, but this help caused the Hmong to suffer great deprivation and personal loss. After the war, many ended up in refugee camps or became refugees in the United States, where they are most populous in the California Central Valley. Very little dental hygiene research exists on intercultural communication, and Toni feels that there is a vast void in our knowledge about other cultures and beliefs.Due to a hand disability, Toni had to leave the clinical practice of dental hygiene after 26 years. While she loved clinical, her body said “enough.” She practiced before ergonomic considerations were important, and decided she needed to refocus her goals and allow her body time to heal, yet remain in the profession she enjoyed. She returned to school for a bachelor’s in communication studies, and has only her thesis left to complete her master in arts in communication from California State University-Sacramento. Her master’s program focuses on health, intercultural and instructional communication.She finds these fields have much to offer dental hygienists in their daily practices. A natural outcome of majoring in such a program is that Toni wants to share what she’s learned through continuing education and literary formats. She loves writing and public speaking and has combined these into valuable and interesting information for her programs and articles.Toni’s programs are a combination of PowerPoint guided lectures, and individual and group activities. She may also include handouts and favors, depending on the particular venue. She enjoys the “ah-ha” moments in her presentations when participants understand what she is saying. This is especially interesting for her since she is a shy person at heart.Besides educating hygienists, Toni enjoys her family and learning. Her husband, a retired teacher, supported her through all three of her degrees. The couple has two adult boys and one granddaughter. Toni loves educating herself on a variety of topics and keeps finding more to learn about. She has been an ADHA member since hygiene school and feels that hygienists need to support their professional association, at least with their dues. Toni has received awards for writing, speaking, scholarship and leadership in various fields, has presented scholarly papers at communication association conventions, has taught public speaking classes, and is currently at work on a communication handbook for dental hygienists.After reviewing Toni’s presentations and seeing how my course in communication followed her thoughts and ideas, I can understand the importance of non-verbal and intercultural communication in the dental setting. Hygienists and other team members should become more proficient in all aspects of communication. By doing so, the overall health care of the patients we treat will be enhanced and our profession will grow.For info on Toni’s courses contact:[email protected]. Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS, FAADH, is currently a faculty member at Mt. Ida College’s dental hygiene program after spending more than 25 years in private practice. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and is also pursuing a master’s degree in education in instructional design. Ann-Marie has written numerous articles and provides continuing education programs for dental hygienists and dental team members. She can be reached at [email protected].