All I want for Christmas ...

Dec. 1, 2003
Christmas is the time of year to wish good tidings on our friends and family. Since dentistry has been my lifelong profession, I consider all dental professionals to be my friends.

By Dianne D. Glasscoe

Dear Readers,

Christmas is the time of year to wish good tidings on our friends and family. Since dentistry has been my lifelong profession, I consider all dental professionals to be my friends. Christmas is also a time to dream, to wish for particular gifts, and to hope for the future. To that end, here are my 10 Christmas wishes for you.

1. I wish that dental hygienists would be able to administer local anesthesia (infiltration and block) in all 50 states. At present, 32 states allow dental hygienists to anesthetize their patients, and it seems a couple more are added each year. Many hygienists would be able to deliver better care to their patients if they did not have to worry about patient comfort.

However, what often happens is that the hygienist is forced to "tiptoe around the sulcus," especially in practices where the doctor is extremely busy and the hygienist is forced to wait on the doctor to give the anesthesia. Further, it is a travesty when a hygienist who has been trained to administer anesthesia moves to a "non-anesthesia" state. She or he may have been giving anesthesia for years without incident but now finds that it is illegal in the new place of residence.

2. Dental hygienists would have the freedom to work in settings such as nursing homes and school-based clinics to deliver care to those underserved populations that need care. Nursing homes desperately need dental hygienists on staff to deliver preventive care to residents who are unable to do so. Following research on 95 elderly patients from a nursing home who were hospitalized for aspiration pneumonia, investigators concluded that the bacteriology associated with their disease could have come from microorganisms colonized in either their dental plaque or oropharyngeal cavity at the time of aspiration.

Further, many children are eligible to received state-supported dental care, but never receive it, because their parents do not take them to the dentist. It would be wonderful if hygienists could bring that care to them in the form of school-based clinics.

The president of the ADHA, Tammi Byrd, RDH, has done this very thing, but not without huge expense and many sleepless nights. The dentists in her home state have challenged her legally, and while she continues to operate her mobile clinic, a court battle looms. It seems the real battle is over her ability to bill Medicaid directly. It doesn't seem to matter that she is serving a population of people that the vast majority of dentists would like to ignore.

3. There would be no more resentment or jealousy between dental assistants and dental hygienists. I wish that dental assistants would stop resenting hygienists because hygienists make higher wages. I wish dental hygienists would shed the "queen bee" image, treat all co-workers with respect, and pitch in and help wherever they are needed. I wish dental hygienists could understand how hard it is to work as a scheduling or financial coordinator, or a chairside assistant, and I wish assistants could understand how hard it is to do dental hygiene all day.

4. There would be no such thing as preceptorship. I wish dental hygiene education would be viewed as something valuable, and all discussions about degrading that education in favor of on-the-job training programs would cease. I wish every state had at least one four-year dental hygiene educational program.

I would like for every doctor to ask this question: Will my patients receive better care from staff members who have less education than currently exists? Will staff members who receive less education and training be capable of delivering the high level of care that is exists now? Do I even care?

5. All doctors and hygienists would respect each other for the expertise they possess. All doctors would see their hygienists as preventive care specialists and view dental hygiene services as valuable components of good health. Additionally, all hygienists would respect their employer for his/her advanced education and expertise regarding restorative care and communicate restorative/cosmetic observations, according to the doctor's desires.

6. All dental hygienists would be members of ADHA and support their professional association on a national, state, and component level. I would wish that all dental hygienists knew the importance of taking an active role in supporting their profession. It's time for dental hygienists to become serious and understand that there are real movements afoot to degrade the educational process.

Dental hygienists should understand that they must protect their profession. If they don't, no one else will.

7. All dental hygienists would love their profession and be a continual learner. We should see continuing education as a privilege and opportunity to grow and become better clinicians, rather than a requirement to maintain licensure.

8. All dental hygienists would embrace and promote only the highest moral, legal, and ethical standards. I wish dental hygienists would realize that when they make irresponsible, immoral, and unethical decisions that make them look bad, they make us all look bad. Dental hygienists represent the profession with their personal and professional lives.

9. Dental hygienists and dentists would work together in harmony for the common goal of helping people achieve healthy mouths and pleasant smiles. There would be no more animosity between the professions. The most important person — the patient — is best served when dentists and hygienists work together to provide excellent preventive and restorative care. How can we accomplish this when there is an air of distrust and resentment between the professions? How can we function as a team when we don't even like each other?

10. All dental hygienists would love and appreciate their patients. Everyday, you have the unique opportunity to touch someone's life, to be a caregiver and a friend, and to be a bright spot in someone's day. You provide a valuable service to your patients, and the patients you dread seeing (you know, the ones with atrocious oral hygiene) need you the most! These wonderful people we call "patients" are a blessing, something for which to be thankful.

These are my 10 Christmas wishes for you. As you begin a new year in your career, determine to be a better clinician this year than last.

Work for harmony in your workplace and personal life, and, above all, be thankful for your profession, your job, and your patients.

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, based in Lexington, N.C. To contact Glasscoe for speaking or consulting, call (336) 472-3515, fax (336) 472-5567, or email [email protected]. Visit her Web site at