Periodontics: Where were you when...?

Jan. 1, 2001
...I do remember being so impressed that anyone would even consider asking me to participate with a publication!

It's one of those "Where were you when?" questions. For a handful of us, the question is, "Where were you when the phone call came asking you to be part of a new dental hygiene publication?" For the rest of you, the question may be,"Where were you when you saw your first copy of RDH?"

I remember distinctly that I was in a dental office in Benson, Ariz. How they found me there, I still don't know. I don't even remember who phoned, but I do remember being so impressed that anyone would even consider asking me to participate with a publication! Obviously, they didn't know I had flunked freshman English in 1966 (Things like that happened back then if you used periods instead of commas in a bibliography!). Since that fact was still a secret, I enthusiastically agreed to participate.

Thinking back on that day 20 years ago brings back lots of memories of Benson, Tucson, and Arizona expanded functions. My part-time position at that time was teaching the final, didactic/clinical course in an Expanded Function Program in Tucson. The hygienists had taken one course each semester for two years. It was my job to tie it all together with clinical practice - not an easy task when they already had forgotten most of the physiology and microbiology courses. The Univer sity of Arizona Medical School sponsored the course, which met only on Fridays and weekends. The nondental people who hired me assured me that finding a part-time clinical position to supplement my income would be easy. Not one dentist in Tucson needed a dental hygienist! I phoned the dental association's office daily, until it came up with two days in Benson, a small town an hour away.

I was grateful for the position, just to pay the bills. The problem was that I didn't have a car! The part-time teaching position was for only six months. My sources told me Tucson had a great bus system, so I sold my car before leaving Seattle. The bus drivers, however, went on strike just as I moved to Tucson! Luckily, I did have a bicycle, and it became my primary means of transportation around town. But the bike wasn't a good idea for the trip to Benson and buying a car with only a part-time income wasn't an option either.

Benson was the first Greyhound bus stop on the route to El Paso. The same driver had the route every Monday. On Valentine's Day, he gave me a free trip to Benson!

I now had to get to the bus station by 6 a.m. on Mondays without a car or city bus. No problem, just telephone for a taxi. So, at 5:15 each Monday morning, I ventured out to the pay phone in the middle of the apartment complex to summon a taxi. Then, I waited at the curb, since the taxi drivers never could seem to find the right apartment in the early morning darkness.

I arrived at the local diner in Benson just after 7 a.m. The diner also served as the Greyhound Bus Station. That gave me just enough time for breakfast before walking down the street to the dental office. On the next day, the dentist graciously offered the guest room in his mother-in-law's mobile home. She was a delight and not only did she welcome me as a guest, she provided dinner on Mondays and breakfast on Tuesdays.

Benson is considered a Mormon farming community. Being raised as a Catholic in Duluth, Minn., I had never even heard of the Mormon religion! I used the Monday overnights as a continuing-education course in Mormonism. The first thing I leaned was how to eat Mexican food without a beer! My Monday-night grandma was an excellent cook, and a delightful person who enjoyed answering all my questions except those about the mysterious "garments."

After dinner, we would each pick up our needlework and visit. With all this time on Monday evenings and bus rides back and forth, I managed to finish my one and only piece of cross-stitch, a name plaque for Eric, the firstborn of a hygienist friend of mine. (It was still hanging on his bedroom door a when I last visited the family in Switzerland. However, since he's now 20 years old, it's probably long gone!)

After an hour or two of needlework and talking, we would shell walnuts and peel oranges for our evening snack. Oh, it was a simpler time! No e-mails to answer, no Internet surfing, no cell phones ringing. In fact, no one ever knew where I was!

The next morning, the dental assistant picked me up on her way to the office and Tuesday of my work week began. Next door to the office was a Mexican restaurant, perfect for lunch. At the end of the day, I wandered back down to the diner to await the 6:15 p.m. bus back to Tucson.

When the receptionist realized I was in town until 6:15, she immediately scheduled 5 p.m. patients for me. I first became aware of this when, at 5 p.m., she said my next patient was waiting! I assumed the office hours had been extended for the dentist as well, but not so. By 5:15, everyone else had gone home for the day, leaving me in the eerie quiet of the office to finish my patient, lock up, and make it to the bus on time. At this point, you should know that dental hygiene was not my first choice in careers. I really wanted to be a policewoman, based on my Dad's example as a police chief. At heart, I'm still a would-be detective.

I tell you this, because my thoughts while working on that last patient of the day in Benson - in an otherwise empty office - always turned to crime-scene images. I could visualize the dental assistant finding me strangled with the handpiece cord when she arrived at the office the next morning. However, there was no need for worry. The 5 p.m. patient - nearly always a male - was usually so exhausted from a hard day's work on the farm that he promptly fell asleep in the chair, leaving me to my musings and nothing more.

As you can see, I survived my experience in Benson and have enjoyed an exciting and rewarding hygiene career, with more writing than I ever imagined! In 1981, my first article was published in RDH. It was an interview with Linda Krol, the first independent dental hygienist. Since then, I've written 16 feature articles for the magazine (and a dozen in other publications), 115 Periodontics columns, and 144 Perio Reports newsletters over a 12-year period. Oh, if my fresh man English teacher could see me now!

Now it's your turn. Do you remember where you were when you saw your first copy of RDH magazine?

Trisha E. O'Hehir, RDH, BS, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter for dental professionals that addresses periodontics. The Web site for Perio Reports is She can be reached by phone at (800) 374-4290 and by e-mail at [email protected].