How RDHs pay it forward: Angels are in our midst, and some have dental hygiene wings

Nov. 19, 2015
Angels are in our midst, and some have dental hygiene wings


I was touched by a video I watched on Facebook about an orphaned boy named Jaden, in Savannah, Georgia. The little boy had lost his dad at age 4, and his mother a year later. Jaden had decided that there were too many sad people in the world, so he embarked on a mission simply to put a smile on sad people's faces.

He asked his aunt, now his guardian, to buy a bag of inexpensive toys-rubber duckies, dinosaurs, etc. She accompanied him on several outings in Savannah. Jaden would target people who were not smiling, approach them, and give them a toy. Their collective reaction was to smile. At the time of the video, Jaden had gone on four such outings and received hugs and tears in addition to the smiles. His goal: to collect 33,000 smiles from people whose day he had brightened.


Other articles by Morrissey


The video touched my heart and reminded me of something I look forward to doing each time I leave Asbury Park, my favorite beach. If I arrive early, I'm antsy within four hours and ready to depart. (FYI, in New Jersey during the summer, we are required to purchase $6 badges in order to enjoy the beach.)

When I've had enough, I make my way onto the boardwalk to head home. I pass people who are standing in line at the beach shack waiting to buy badges. My favorite part of the day happens when I choose someone who doesn't look happy to hand off my badge to! The grins on people's faces are priceless. It is super fun to simply walk away with a smile. This is what they call "Pay it forward," right? The gratitude I gain warms the cockles of me heart, as they say in the old country (Ireland).

I got to thinking about how we as hygienists are smile makers of a different sort every day in our treatment rooms. But what are some ways to pay it forward when we are working? I think what is paramount is making a gesture and expecting nothing in return.

Here are some things that come to mind.

If you are bagging your instruments, take a second to bag a few for the dental assistants. Often I have time only to bag a single syringe; not nearly enough minutes to sort through the restorative instrument inventory. It's a simple gesture, and I'm not looking for reciprocity.

Write a little note to a patient to put inside their goody bag. We created simple "A Note from Your Hygienist" templates that allow us to scribble whatever might be needed for a patient to follow up with. Many times these notes are to reinforce home-care instructions or products I'd like them to buy. But why not write an uplifting message, a funny rhyme, or the inexpensive wine find you discovered last week?

Yesterday, my 17-year-old patient was alarmed because she had discovered "hard bumps on the floor of her mouth." (They were tori.) I provided an explanation, but knowing that she is an avid Googler, wrote the term on her communication note so that she could research herself the next time she was on the Internet. Hint: the best way to do this is not to tell the patient what you are writing, but let her be surprised by the message inside.

Linda Hirce, RDH, one of my favorite friends in Colorado handed her patient the goody bag with brush, floss, and paste. He declined it, saying he uses his automatic toothbrush. Linda pressed on, asking him to take it anyway, and leave it on the table in his office lunchroom. "Someone else will happily make use of this!" (Sounds like two people paid it forward that day.)

Lori Saporito, RDH, another favorite friend in New Jersey, does the following and more with patients: Makes pillowcases for her graduating seniors to take to college to remind them to brush before bed. Brings extra veggies from her garden to pass out. Saves magazines for patients and gives books to newborns (usually the story involves a tooth fairy). Has glass hearts in her drawer to give to people diagnosed with cancer to remind them that they are loved and to call with concerns. If the cancer patient is not at their appointment, she will give the glass heart to the family member to pass along.

(I think that Lori is an angel, disguised as a dental hygienist.) Paying it forward doesn't get any better than this. The magical thing about paying it forward is that it mysteriously bounces back somehow. I leave this column totally inspired and hope you do too. Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core. RDH

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