A glance out the windshield

Dec. 1, 2003
As I'm driving along, I notice my bicycle seat in the rearview mirror. My bike is in two pieces behind the back seat of my minivan; ready for use at the first whim I might have to take a bike ride.

By Shirley Gutkowski

As I'm driving along, I notice my bicycle seat in the rearview mirror. My bike is in two pieces behind the back seat of my minivan; ready for use at the first whim I might have to take a bike ride.

Now that I have a good bike, with strategically placed springs and suspended cantilever seat, cycling is easy. The handlebars are close to the seat, which allows me to sit upright, taking the pressure off my wrists. Mountain bikes and road bikes have the rider leaning too far forward. I can bike in more comfort because my hands don't become numb.

The bike has been in the back of my car since the weather broke last spring, but I have never gotten a whim to ride it. It finally dawned on me that the real reasons I haul my bike around are fear and comfort. Fear that my car will break down and the comfort of knowing I won't be totally stranded.

When we were poor, it was common for our car to break down, leaving me stuck somewhere, miles from somewhere else. The last time I got stranded was in 1989. Although the car I drive now has over 252,000 miles, just about everything on it is new. I'm sure it won't leave me stuck. Plus I carry a cell phone, which is better for a rescue operation than any bike! If I drive out of state, I rent a car. It's cheaper than car payments. The point is: I don't have to drive around with that bike in the back.

As oral health care providers, we do things that we have dragged around since graduation. We all do this and we have to stop.

Being a health care provider demands that we keep up with new science and new technology in the health field. As things develop, we have to eliminate old technology and old ways of thinking. Hygienists have to hang up their starched hats and starched white dresses. We have to get rid of the handpieces running off of a cotton rope and allow ourselves to evolve without baggage.

Within the covers of RDH and other publications is a wealth of knowledge, an enormous amount of new thought, insight to new trends and new realities. The awareness of biofilms is the most glaring example of new science. If you don't know how this changes dental hygiene, go back to read the supplements included with this magazine in November 2002 and again earlier this year. Go to www.rdhmag.com and type in the word "biofilm" to see how others are interpreting this finding. Biofilm is much more than a new word for plaque. This discovery changes our relationship with plaque.

If you're feeling isolated from new information and lonely in your profession, join the American Dental Hygienists' Association. This group of oral health care providers can challenge your thinking and move you forward. If the local component doesn't match your interests, go to the state meetings or become a member of your state's oral health coalition. If you can't leave the house, or choose not to drive all over, use the Internet to bring yourself out of isolation.

There are a number of groups at www.Yahoogroups. com that accommodate your profession, help you develop new ideas, or allow you to help others. Assisting others with their questions or dilemmas of patient care — or taking care of yourself — is one of the primary ways of rekindling your passions. One popular site, www.amyrdh.com, includes everything relating to dental hygiene ... case studies, interview questions, message boards, and any number of things you haven't thought of yet.

Think back on the knowledge base with which you started your career. What have you already discarded? One of the first things to go for my classmates and me was gingival massage. We weren't graded on it. It didn't promote health; it was just a nice thing to do for our patients. With the time crunch (we had to finish everything in less than three hours), it fell by the wayside for many of us before graduation. Gingival massage was often overlooked, and finally forgotten.

The taking of blood pressure is another thing that goes by the wayside. Like my bike in the back of the car, we keep the materials around. Occasionally we use them in a flurry on the days after a CE course, or after reading a particularly compelling journal article. Like my bike, the intention to use them more is definitely there. Intentions pave the way to H-E-double hockey sticks, as we used to say. Good intentions that are not acted upon don't burn calories and don't save teeth, gingiva or lives.

A look around an operatory can reveal a lot about the baggage a practitioner drags around. Aging flossing posters, spindles of floss collecting dust in the corner of a drawer, broken sharpening stones, and ideas of calculus and plaque that are only the origin of what we know today. No wonder we're exhausted!

This is the end of another year. Dentistry is one year closer to uncovering the real answers to the mysteries we face every day. The reality is that we can take the bikes out of the back of our cars. We will become accustomed to traveling without a safety net. We'll find that we're not that far off the ground. If we fall or fail, we'll search for a silver lining to find what good information we can take from a bad experience.

Looking into the rearview mirror at my bike is looking backward. The new year is starting in a few weeks; it's time to re-evaluate what we're doing, how we're treating patients or living our lives. We have to make sure we are looking out of the windshield, and using the mirrors to keep our forward movement true.

Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, has been a full time practicing dental hygienist in Madison, Wis., since 1986. Ms. Gutkowski is published in print and on Internet sites, and speaks to groups through Cross Links Presentations. She can be contacted at [email protected].