Speaking Words of Wisdom

June 24, 2014
"If I keep doing what I always did, I will get what I always got." This line played over and over in my head this week. I asked myself, how can I link this with the topic of dental hygienist complacency ...

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

"If I keep doing what I always did, I will get what I always got." This line played over and over in my head this week. I asked myself, how can I link this with the topic of dental hygienist complacency that a teaching colleague asked me to write about? Turns out, it's really easy.

There is a wide range of emotions out there in the dental hygiene community. On one hand, many RDHs have had their hours cut, or they cannot find work in the field. However, my colleague feels that even for those fortunate enough to be employed in good practices, there is a remarkable amount of complacency in more than a few dental environments.


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She surmises that there are many who are merely going through the motions of being hygienists, day in and day out. In other words, it's the grind necessary to collect a paycheck. Passion and enthusiasm have been replaced with a weary minimalist participation in patient treatment and service. Examples of complacency include using coarse prophylaxis paste "because we always have," or not bothering to provide an oral cancer screening "because there's not enough time," or not flossing a person at the close of dental hygiene treatment and justifying it by saying that you already scaled between every tooth. Complacency might also be keeping up a superficial nonstop chatter rather than educating someone about his or her dental needs.

Do you see yourself here? This brings me back to that sentiment, "If I keep doing what I always did, I will get what I always got."

Many RDHs who have practiced more than a few years say that they're burned out and not sure how long they will stay in the field. It's possible that some of you feel the dental hygiene profession has handed you a lemon. I'm going to offer that when life hands you lemons, you can suck on them with a tart puss-face, or you can choose to make lemonade (to quote my dental hygiene alumna friend Chris Zwiebel). If you are the puss-face person, chances are good you'll burn out yet again, in the next profession you move to.

Instead, why not make the choice to put a bit more passion into your profession and experience the happy byproduct that will follow? I believe that if you make this effort, the return on investment will come back to you tenfold.

What can we do if we're walking in these shoes? Count your blessings that you're gainfully employed. Talk to any out-of-work hygienist, and you'll immediately understand what I'm saying. Developing an "attitude of gratitude" is guaranteed to instantaneously reap rewards. Change your attitude, and change your world, says Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Here are some practical suggestions to implement immediately:

  • Compliment your doctor on his (or her) beautiful dentistry in front of your patients, and ask the doctor if you could observe him creating his mastery at your next cancellation. Follow through and walk that talk.
  • As you bag your instruments to be sterilized, bag some for the doctor's assistant, as well. If the administrative team member is clearly busy with a patient at the front desk, make the telephone call yourself to the patient who has not yet arrived 10 minutes into the appointment.
  • Smile and make eye contact with all those you see in the office. A Ritz-Carlton greeting or a fond farewell are rare in the medical practices of our contemporary world. Try being in the moment and truly listening and responding to patients when they ask questions, even if you've answered it hundreds of times. It's easy to go into autopilot, and autopilot is a perfect example of complacency. The essence of Zen says that we should strive to practice mindfulness! Patients will pick up on that vibe.
  • Read your dental hygiene journals and magazines so that you stay abreast of current practices, and make the effort to follow through on what you read. No time? I keep my current issues in my bathroom. Read an article rather than examine your cell phone as you sit on the throne.

Hear ye, hear ye -- Tis not my intent to preach to ye! But I listen to those who trudge wearily on and do nothing but complain, and I believe in my heart of hearts that you can make your world better. In fact, please write to me at [email protected] and share those small changes you implement and the results you achieve. I want to pass them along to others at my seminars.

Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core!

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.

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