Five commandments

For hygienists seeking to build their value (reputation) and image (brand) in today's dental world, my suggestion is that we start hustling.

By Kristine A. Hodson

For hygienists seeking to build their value (reputation) and image (brand) in today's dental world, my suggestion is that we start hustling.

The following five commandments should be chiseled into every hygienist's stone tablet in order to build an image and create distinctions for the dental hygiene profession. Pursuing them religiously is now as essential as watching our backs with regard to preceptorship measures.

Entities try to create "generic hygienists" or lesser educated versions of a licensed professional. These attempts decrease our professional reputations and cause our identity to become obscured, because the public still thinks of us as the "cleaning girls and boys." We need to have our patients and legislators embrace the brand of dental hygiene.

Commandment #1
Thou shalt embrace marketing.

Hygienists are social creatures, and we are obsessed with building lasting, face-to-face relationships with every patient we treat. That principle can be leveraged to the fullest. Marketing dental hygiene includes getting the public to know hygienists are professional care providers. Initially, this means hygienists should be a member of our professional association (ADHA). We then need to encourage our association to invest in hygiene events, commercials, lay print media, etc. to inform the public about what we do for them.

Think about the pharmaceutical company, Astra-Zeneca, that makes "the purple pill" and "the new purple pill," Prilosec and Nexium. Americans will spend nearly $200 billion on medicines this year. Nexium and its predecessor, Prilosec captured about $5.7 million dollars of that in 2001 — all with the slogans, "the little purple pill' and "talk to your doctor."

Our face-to-face relationships with patients allow us to reach them more directly than other professionals. Wouldn't it be great if the ADHA marketing arsenal contained slogans such as, "Preceptorship Free Zone," or "Making the World Healthier, One License at a Time?" If we are not making use of marketing every day, nationally and locally, we are missing the boat.

Commandment #2
Thou shalt dive into our profession

Influential hygienists study the profession in minute detail, zeroing in on the industry's needs they're uniquely positioned to fill. For example, speakers change topics and continuing education programs evolve based on emerging trends and research. Consultants also modify ideas or strategies to provide innovation for their clients.

As stellar clinical hygienists, we should be following that lead, especially as uncharted change continually threatens our professional positioning once thought secure. First ask, am I doing all that I can legally do? Then get a copy of your state practice act to determine what functions or duties you can legally perform. Determine why you are not delivering all of your allowable treatments. What we do not use, we lose.

Commandment #3
Thou shalt develop thy vision

Hygienists must determine their compelling vision and drive toward it. Too often, they lose their passion for hygiene not because of the daily challenges, but because they compromise themselves.

Commandment #4
Thou shalt honor thy team members
The team-building spirit is sometimes lost with hygienists who feel unappreciated. A cohesive team lifts each other up to shine. Hygienists must learn to nurture and empower the people who work with them everyday — encouraging them to pursue their professional goals. All team members should capitalize on opportunities to maintain the luster of healthy smiles.

Commandment #5
Thou shalt remain flexible
We all have heard some of fallacious reasons organized dentistry uses to rationalize the dilution of hygiene practice scope. I often wonder if we are in some way fueling the fire. Let me explain. I once worked with a hygienist who, on this particular day, was doing some administrative duties. An unexpected patient showed up in the office for a hygiene visit. The hygienist's response was, "I am not mentally prepared to clean his teeth." She refused. Now, how many times have you heard a dental assistant say that she "was not mentally prepared to seat an emergency patient" or get a new instrument tray because the procedure changed from a crown prep to an RCT? It's an extreme case perhaps, but be aware of what messages you send when you work only in black or white. There is a lot of gray in dental hygiene. Hygienists often are not viewed as professionals or team players.My prayer is that after following, or at least acknowledging, these "commandments of dental hygiene," many hygienists will find their reputations elevated by gaining respect from their co-workers, recognition from their employer, and enhancing the profession.

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, is an international speaker, author, and software developer. She is the author of Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team. The book is available online at www.pennwell-store.com. She can be contacted about speaking or coaching at kahodsdon@aol.com. Visit her on the Web at www.reachhygiene.com.

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