Tales from the RDH side

May 1, 2002
A former colleague and I paused in a hallway about 10 years ago to discuss our boss. I pointed out that the boss was full of innovative ideas, but that he was too easily distracted.

A former colleague and I paused in a hallway about 10 years ago to discuss our boss. I pointed out that the boss was full of innovative ideas, but that he was too easily distracted. One good idea would be launched in our workplace and the boss then was off to the next idea. As a result, nothing ever seemed to reach fruition. Everyone constantly scrambled to put out the fires associated with the latest brainstorm.

My colleague exclaimed, "Yeah, it's like he vomits nonstop from the top of his head." He then pantomimed the boss by gesturing with his hands above his head as if a volcanic eruption was pouring forth, and danced with his feet to symbolize the employees sidestepping the, uh, lava.

I laughed at this comical outburst during the middle of the workday from a middle-aged man with a family. Whenever I think about writing, I usually remember my colleague's view of the boss. Writing is expelling several foreign substances in your body's system, and, when you type the article's final keystrokes, you sometimes feel the weak-in-your-knees, finally-letting-go-of-the-commode relief that, boy, this 24-hour case of the writer's flu is finally over.

Of course, this is not a very flattering picture to visualize when thinking of RDH writers. Drs. Chris Miller and Joen Haring, after all, are well-respected professors at two Big 10 universities. Dianne Glasscoe, Kathleen Adams, and Anne Guignon are consultants, and image is important in that profession. Kristine Hodsdon and Trisha O'Hehir wear a number of different hats, none of which is undignified. Shirley Gutkowski might immediately come to mind as someone who mentally pukes on a routine basis - her column does have the foreboding title, Thinking Sharply - but, on the face of it, she's just a hard-working, full-time Wisconsin hygienist.

Think of RDH writers any way you want, but I think of them as writers. I'm their editor. I plan to spend my summer with them. I am not, of course, talking about the e-mails I get from them around the tenth of every month, accompanied by the brief note, "Here's my next column. Don't bother me for another 30 days. I haven't changed clothes in three days ... too weak to crawl to the closet." No, I'm going to see each one of them at a Chicago hotel on August 2-3, approximately seven days before their columns for the October 2002 issue are due (and don't think I'll forget to remind them of that fact).

I'm actually looking forward to the rendezvous.

Before we move on, let me say a word or two about my pet peeve. There are people who choose not to read and yet try to exert an undue amount of influence on people who do read. You don't have to be a detective to spot someone who doesn't enjoy reading. When you read a lot, you tend to tip your hand. You'll say, "I read an article this morning about teenage pregnancy, and it made me wonder if we're all too easygoing with our kids." Or you'll say, "There was this book I was reading a couple of months ago. This guy was writing about another industry for the most part, but he said some things that apply to us as well. I've got it at home. Why don't I bring it in and you can read it too?"

There is nothing wrong with choosing to obtain knowledge from other media - video, audio, seminars, etc. The big clue is that people who choose not to read do not make any references to the printed word. Yet people influential in dentistry, who so obviously shun the printed word, try to tell me what RDH authors should be writing about. "What you need are more articles about XYZ," and, since they are considered to be influential, everyone listening to the conversation nods enthusiastically as if a deity has spoken. Meanwhile, I know in my heart that this person who chooses not to read would never read the article, even if we published the best information possible on the subject.

So that's my pet peeve. It should be obvious that I'd rather have the most unfamous hygienist on Main Street USA tell me what he or she likes about RDH, particularly if she's an avid reader of books, magazines, etc.

RDH is a magazine; that's all it is. Either you like reading magazines, or you don't.

Some RDH columns consist of "formula" writing. That's where you write a certain way every time. Dr. Haring certainly does that with Case Study, a monthly review of cases involving oral pathology. Infection Control's Dr. Miller provides lists of the details contained in a written exposure plan, for example. Adams, author of Your Money, spells out the strategies of, say, tax planning. It's almost as if the three of them methodically address the two inevitable events of life in dentistry: disease and taxes.

You could argue that Glasscoe's Staff Rx belongs in the same category with Case Study, Infection Control, and Your Money - but it would be for a different reason. Staff Rx always starts off with a letter from a hygienist, usually seeking advice of some sort. "Dear Dianne, my boss was once again late for a hygiene exam. So I walked out to the parking lot, climbed into my SUV, fired that tank up, and rammed it into the wall of his office. He thinks I should pay for the damage. What do you think?" The letters to Dianne, of course, are the most interesting part of Staff Rx. She has a hard act to follow with the rest of her column - sort of like having to follow up with your own joke right after Robin Williams has told one at a cocktail party. Glasscoe's responses to the letters are hardly formulaic; she handles RDH's "gripe sessions" with a diplomatic style that considers various potential causes to problems, as well as solutions.

As for the other columnists, what do I expect when I get the first peek at their writing on the tenth of every month? Your guess is as good as mine. Some examples of what I encounter in the mail line the margins of this article. Although the columnists consistently appear in every issue, RDH also relies on the insight of its talented "feature" writers. (If you'll turn to the table of contents, everything listed under "This month in RDH" is considered a feature article.) Just for grins, I have included a few notable quotes from their articles.

If I can sound like a sportswriter for a moment, I will observe, "Dr. Joen Haring holds the longest active streak of consecutive columns appearing in RDH." Since January 1989, she has written 148 consecutive columns, including the Case Study in this issue. Of course, someone will insist on an asterisk being placed by her streak. Technically, the article she submits every December is not a column. It's a test. The pop quiz ensures that you paid attention to her cases during the preceding 11 months. I always fail the test miserably, but I don't cheat either, sneaking away to my private stash of RDHs to look up answers. How about you guys? Do you cheat? Actually, if you count the Case Study tests as a column, the streak stands at 161. Just try to beat that! I'd be skeptical of your ability just because I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone as organized as Dr. Haring. We all read these magazine articles (yet another clue that I read for pleasure) about how difficult it is to combine motherhood, a successful career, and other interests (such as writing for RDH magazine, ensuring that we don't forget about antral pseudocysts, lipomas, and fibromas). She defies the odds, remaining a very charming, intelligent woman as she effortlessly takes on all challenges.

On the flip side, there's Gutkowski. Her active streak of Thinking Sharply now stands at nine straight columns. The babe of the columnists is hardly infantile in her approach to dental hygiene. She previously wrote a few feature articles for the magazine; the article titled, "Mrs. Slovotski's Visit" in early 2001 established her as a writer, and she quickly earned the monthly column. O'Hehir, Glasscoe, and Hodsdon also wrote feature articles for the magazine before starting their columns. Dr. Haring was a cover model in 1990, writing an article about evaluating X-rays in the issue, but the column started the previous year. Dr. Miller was invited because of his pioneering involvement with OSAP and the realization in the late 1980s that hygienists needed solid information about protecting themselves from infectious diseases.

Adams was manning a booth for a financial adviser at a meeting hosted by the California Dental Hygienists' Association, and RDH's booth was across the aisle. I had actually been looking for a hygienist familiar with the world of finance. It was the single-mom trend, combined with a high risk of occupational injuries, that was scaring me. Did RDH readers know how to invest in their future? The dental journals, including Dr. Hugh Doherty of Dental Economics, had the upper income bracket covered. But who could speak the financial language of hygienists? I asked if Adams knew someone, figuring she was just a broker devoting a Saturday to hunt for prospects at a trade show.

"I'm a hygienist," she replied. That conversation led to Your Money.

In a story she loves retelling, Guignon called me out of the blue one day and said she wanted to write for RDH. We had never met, and it was our first conversation - period. I said that was just fine and dandy. I told her to send me a couple of articles and I'd look them over.

"No. I want a monthly column," she insisted, prompting me suddenly to remember all of the door-to-door salesmen and telemarketers who have enriched my life.

But there's nothing that disgusts me as much as a profession that has to constantly battle occupational illnesses and injuries. There's no logical reason for you to work at a job that maims you. Guignon is definitely of the same mindset. So we talked about the foundation of what would become the Comfort Zone. She got her column.

We're not talking about mousy bookworms who'd rather finish a chapter of a novel than talk with you. RDH writers truly are delightful people to meet and know. This is why I wanted to get the first RDH Under One Roof conference launched. I wanted you to meet them. [Hint, hint - all of the RDH writers under one roof at the same time.] We convened in Denver late in July 2001, and participants mingled with the columnists, as well as a couple of the feature writers who attended.

Chicago is a great place to visit in the summer, but it's the writers whom I want you to meet. O'Hehir is the closest thing to royalty that RDH can claim. She's been all over the world, attending almost every dental research meeting of note. The publisher of Perio Reports, O'Hehir is a statesman at any international gathering that discusses periodontics. You may think, "Boy, this is going to be an awkward moment" when you shake her hand, but she completely disarms you with a genuine friendliness that is evident in the way that she listens to you.

Glasscoe drawls - true to her Southern heritage - but there are not many people in dentistry who can match her communication skills. You become inclined to think that Gutkowski needs to sit on her hands; she gets so exuberant when you talk to her. Guignon and Hodsdon exemplify the innovative enthusiasm that is so characteristic of dental hygiene; if you've lost that feeling, they'll revive it. As might be guessed from their academic or business backgrounds, Adams, Haring, and Miller are somewhat more reserved. They are, however, unfailingly polite. The information they gladly discuss with anyone who has a question is perfectly solid.

I'm suddenly feeling a little weak and faint from this eruption of foreign substances from the top of my head. I hope it's beginning to sink in about why I view myself as one lucky editor. Hygienists are terrific communicators. The people described above are a wonderful crew of writers, and I'm honored to be in their company. Come meet them!


The thought of tissue engineering may bring visions of Mr. Whipple and those old TV commercials to your mind ... Briefly, the donor tissue is grown in a biocompatible 3-D mesh sheet. One donor can grow 250,000 square feet of tissue (the length of six football fields). This tissue is living tissue that can be frozen and thawed out, cut to size, and placed in the mouth.
Cathy Alty, November 2001

Everywhere you look, people are using cell phones - shopping in the mall, walking down the street, driving a car, in the library, in hospitals, walking on the beach, and, yes, even in the dental chair! ... if your patients waste precious time and "talk" their appointments away on a cell phone, do not hesitate to reappoint them and charge for an extra visit.
Dianne Glasscoe, September 2001

The meeting on the other side of the wall was packed with men attending a "Tim Taylor" extravaganza, a power tool conference. "Argh, argh, argh." Kim and her attendees spent the day serenaded by choruses of testosterone grunts. Every time the guys grunted, Kim led the hygienists in the chant, "And the hygienists agree with you too."
Anne Guignon, October 2001

Suddenly, I was face to face with Marian. On the wall was her framed license - license number 125 issued in 1941. She was wearing a white sweater decorated with a Christmas tree and her beautiful white hair was neatly coifed in a French twist, and, no, she had not given in to scrubs! She was busy treating a wonderful German woman, polishing and flossing every tooth meticulously ... Marian and I bantered back and forth at the end of the appointment, just like two old friends. I showed her how to curl a bridge threader and how to configure a saliva ejector ergonomically.
Anne Guignon, February 2002

Picture the Charleston. The dancers have rapid, short, exacting movements that require forceful footwork to execute properly. Hand scaling reminds me of the Charleston; so, in essence, all hygienists know how to do this dance ... Waltzing, on the other hand, requires the partners to glide seemingly without effort round and round the dance floor with fluid, smooth steps. In many ways, effective ultrasonic scaling requires the same type of approach.
Anne Guignon, February 2002

The word "probably" is a big fat leech sucking the blood out of entire conversations. After spending a good part of the appointment discussing the importance of periodontal therapy to a patient, the whole heart of the conversation flies out the window when probably enters the picture. "Yes, periodontal therapy would probably get that bleeding under control."
Shirley Gutkowski, September 2001

The term overtreatment is just as it implies. Shooting a fly with a bazooka is a good example of overtreatment.
Shirley Gutkowski, October 2001

As we all know, the tongue doesn't have an eye. Such a shame.
Shirley Gutkowski, November 2001

There I was just a walkin' down the convention
aisle singing do wa need composite polish?
Diddy dum, yes I do.
Wanting the Finale System and PropEz,
singing do wa deserve them?
Diddy dum, yes I do.
Cavity Shield looked good,
3D Power looked fine,
Clinpro looked good,
Petite Web LF looked fine;
With all this high-tech stuff,
I nearly lost my mind ...
Kristine Hodsdon, October 2001

We sell every day! We sell our kids on keeping their rooms clean. We sell our partners on the fact that we are the best companions in the universe. We sell fellow hygienists on the merits of the ADHA. We sell the other car-pooling parents on picking up the kids two days in a row. We sell ... and it's OK.
Kristine Hodsdon, January 2002

I was vacuuming the clients' welcome room incorrectly. This went on for weeks until the doctor finally told me that the other "girls" in the office were upset with the way I was vacuuming. You see, after I vacuumed, I walked over to the light switch to turn it off, hence leaving behind sneaker prints on the newly vacuumed rug. I was supposed to vacuum with the light off while leaving the hallway light on, because that switch was easier to turn off without "re-infecting" the carpet. Yes, this little act was feeding the gossip mills for weeks!
Kristine Hodsdon, February 2002

Now just imagine you were able to keep these 1,000 patients healthy. No new decay and no periodontal disease. You could go along like this for a little while, but soon the dentist would want new patients - patients with dental disease who need restorative work. Add in new patients and, before you know it, your once-successful dental hygiene system is turned into a terrific source of dentistry! It's simple. Traditional practice, owned and managed by dentists, needs disease to stay in business.
Trisha O'Hehir, December 2001

Just the idea of independent practice can set some dentists off, as I'm sure you've noticed. I wonder if they really think that independent hygienists would set up "prophy parlors" on every corner or "pyorrhea palaces" in their garages?
Trisha O'Hehir, January 2002

Have you ever wondered how we get bacteria in our mouths? We all start our lives as germ-free newborns. In nature, we see that animals often lick their infants. Humans do something similar. We spit on our babies. Haven't you ever used saliva to wipe food or dirt off a child's face or mouth? Moms instinctively lick their fingers or a tissue to clean smudges off kids' faces. I don't even have children of my own, and I've found myself spitting on kids in the family! I see kids in the grocery store who could use a little spit wash. The family dog even takes a turn licking the kids. Before putting a spoon of warm food in a baby's mouth, we put it in our mouth to test it. I've even seen moms pick up a pacifier that's landed on the floor, and, before giving it to the baby, it first goes into mom's mouth to be cleaned.
Trisha O'Hehir, February 2002

She'd never been hit before, especially not in the face and not by a man. The blow came from nowhere, knocking her to the ground. Stunned, Helen scrambled off of the floor. The impaired doctor was no match for a sober, quick-thinking woman who did aerobics three times a week. Fear and adrenaline propelled her out of the office, to safety and the police.
Cat Zermatt Schmidt, October 2001

Thankfully, [puppy] foster homes needn't be Norman Rockwell perfect; in fact, they need not be "homes" at all. Condos or city apartments work well, too, as long as there's room for the puppy's crate and a place for him to relieve himself. "Pooper Scoopers" have greatly increased the range of possible foster homes, as parks, sidewalks, or even gutters can become socially acceptable doggie "toilets."
Cat Zermatt Schmidt, January 2002

It's not illegal. Did you get that? Here it comes again. It's not illegal. That sentence should be flashing like a Broadway marquee inside every frustrated hygienist's head. Have you ever wanted to own your own business? Have you ever wanted to get out from under dentistry's thumb?
Cathy Seckman, February 2002

Another form of abuse that I have had a personal experience with is that of verbal abuse to an elderly member of the family. My mother had to be cared for by someone while I was out of town. When I returned home, all it took was a look into her eyes to tell me that something was wrong. When we talked, it all came out. How awful I felt as the person who put this caregiver in my mother's life!
Jane Weiner, January 2002