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Readers' Forum

March 1, 2004
I read the results of your 2003 Salary and Benefits Survey with keen interest. The comments were particularly insightful. I counted 60 negative comments and only five positive ones.

Comments on salary survey

Dear RDH:
I read the results of your 2003 Salary and Benefits Survey with keen interest. The comments were particularly insightful. I counted 60 negative comments and only five positive ones. Were you selective about which comments were published?

The emotions of the hygienists are evident in these comments — disappointment, frustration, anger, and resentment. Much of these emotions seemed to stem from lack of benefits, raises, and fair play. The second tier of backlash was lack of respect and appreciation from their doctors.

I would urge all of these hygienists to track their production for a month, find their daily average, and see what percentage of this is their pay. If the pay is not in the 35 to 40 percent range, they are being underpaid!

I believe the commission system is the best: 35 to 50 percent with a base as a safety net. If your average pay is high enough, who cares about benefits? And working on commission means never having to ask for a raise; they are built-in when fees are raised.

The article on doctor/hygienist relationships (in the same issue) tied in nicely with the survey. Of Sue Schoenfeld's factors for a professionally satisfying relationship, the first is a standout: "The doctor respects my opinion and lets the patient know this too." In the end, mutual respect may be the most crucial element of all.
Melissa Palmer, RDH
Placerville, California

Editor's Note: We agree that hygienists should monitor their production statistics, and we also agree that the "negative" sentiments of 92 percent (60 divided by 65) probably do not reflect the profession as a whole. And, of course, we think your concluding sentence is a standout in its own right: "In the end, mutual respect may be the most crucial element of all." However, we appreciated the so-called negative comments that were submitted. I think we probably view them in the same light as we view letters to the editor that are printed in the Readers' Forum. For whatever this may indicate about human nature, people are more inclined to voice an opinion if they are unhappy or concerned than they are if they are "happy" — hence the lack of balance in a selective sampling of comments. Also, as you imply with your insight about the emotions behind the negative comments, there are various reasons for discontent, and all of those reasons are noteworthy in the analysis of the survey's results. In contrast, many positive comments are as straightforward and simple as "I'm happy." If there's no elaboration, there's no need to keep repeating such simple statements.

Countering claims about aspartame

Dear RDH:
The Calorie Control Council is an international association representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry. Companies that make and use aspartame are among the council's members. The council is writing in regard to a misinformation about aspartame, which appeared in an article titled, "Just a Quick Bite," which appeared in the December 2003 issue of RDH.

Although there are many inaccuracies in this article, the council will address only those concerning aspartame.The council respectfully requests that you reprint this letter in whole or in its part to help set the record straight.With more than three decades of research and 200 studies, the safety of aspartame is not questionable.

Its safety has been reaffirmed on 26 occasions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and by, among others, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association. In fact, the FDA commissioner, upon approving aspartame, noted, "Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety."

Importantly, aspartame never enters the bloodstream and therefore cannot travel to essential organs. When aspartame is digested, the body breaks it down into its components, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.People consume much greater amounts of these components in common foods, such as milk, meat, dried beans, fruits, and vegetables.The body handles the components from aspartame in the same way it handles them when derived from other foods.

Over the years, some consumers have reported symptoms, which they believed were associated with aspartame. The FDA has investigated these allegations and concluded that there is no "reasonable evidence of possible public health harm" and "no consistent or unique patterns of symptoms reported with respect to aspartame that can be causally linked to its use." In 1984, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed 517 of these anecdotal reports and stated "the majority of frequently reported symptoms were mild and are symptoms that are common in the general populace" and that "focused" clinical studies would be the best way to evaluate these complaints.

As a result, numerous scientific studies "focused" on the allegations were conducted by expert researchers at major academic institutions. The results of these studies overwhelmingly demonstrated that aspartame is not associated with adverse health effects, including headaches, seizures, changes in mood, cognition, or behavior, or allergic reactions.

Despite the overwhelming documentation of aspartame's safety, unfounded allegations that aspartame is associated with a myriad of ailments, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and lupus have continued to be spread via the Internet and the media by a few individuals who have no documented scientific or medical expertise.

Recently, several governments and expert scientific committees carefully evaluated the Internet allegations and found them to be false, reconfirming the safety of aspartame. In addition, leading health authorities, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The National Parkinson Foundation, Inc., the Alzheimer's Association, and the Lupus Foundation of America have reviewed the claims on the Internet and also concluded that they are false.

Most recently, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission reaffirmed the safety of aspartame giving it a "clean bill of health" again.To review this recent document, please visit: /comm/food/fs/sc/scf/out155_en.pdf.

Aspartame is approved in more than 100 countries around the world and has been reviewed and determined safe by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the World Health Organization as well as the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Union.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.For more information about aspartame, please visit: www.

Beth Hubrich, MS, RD, LD
Calorie Control Council
Atlanta, Georgia

Stereotyping opponents of amalgam

Dear RDH:
I was surprised to read Shirley Gutkowski's vitriolic denunciation of anti-amalgamists. I don't deny that the fanatics are out there, but a vast number of anti-amalgamists are intelligent, rational, normal people.

Gutkowski's stereotype of anti-amalgamists as hysterical zealots hurling green vomit at duped dentists is ridiculous. Is she not aware that many dentists no longer use amalgams in their practices? I sub as a hygienist in many offices and have found many respectable, decent, intelligent dentists who no longer use amalgam fillings. With so many excellent alternative materials out there, it just makes sense.

I have amalgams in my own mouth, and as long as they are serviceable, they will stay there. If they need replacement, will I replace them with amalgam? Absolutely not. Aside from the fact that amalgam fillings are ugly, I have doubts about the safety of mercury in my body.

Several years ago, I did an independent study for college on the safety of amalgam fillings. I read all of the scientific research I could find, as well as all of the fanatical material I could find. My conclusion: I couldn't be sure that amalgams were safe. Do I want to take a chance on the safety of mercury in my body when I have other options? Definitely not.

Finally, just because a person is fanatical about a cause, doesn't mean that everything they say is wrong. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Kirsten Brancheau, RDH
Newton, New Jersey

Product for cancer patients

Dear RDH:
A couple of months ago I treated a patient who was a very heavy salivator. I commented he should be grateful as people who have had radiation to the neck and head lacked saliva and it is very uncomfortable.

He then shared with me that his company MedImmune has a new product called Ethyol® that is a cytoprotective agent that reduces the toxicity of chemotherapy and radiation. "It is an intravenous agent indicated to reduce the incidence of moderate to severe xerostomia in patients undergoing post operative radiation for head and neck cancer when the radiation part includes a substantial portion of the parotid glands."

Perhaps the medical and dental community can add this information and product to their treatment options for cancer patients.

Margaret Corso, RDH
Leesburg, Virginia

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About the cover

A male hygienist is unusual enough, but what about twin male hygienists? Chad and Jason Prillwitz of Benton Harbor, Mich., can thank their mother for steering them into dental careers.

Chad (left) and Jason Prillwitz
Click here to enlarge image

The 27-year-olds grew up in Benton Harbor with their parents, Al and Joyce Prillwitz, and a younger sister, Kelly. "Mom's been an RN for 32 years," Jason says. "When we were in high school and leaning toward being tool and die makers, she told us that if she had it to do over again, she'd be a hygienist — better pay, easier work, better hours, no being on call, and no weekends. She kept telling us to consider it seriously."

They didn't listen to Mom right away, though. After high school graduation in 1995, Chad worked as a hospital lab assistant, and Jason was a loader and unloader for UPS. But Jason had a friend whose mother is a hygienist, and whose father is a dentist. He talked to them, he remembered what his mother had said, and eventually he did some research. "Chad jumped aboard about six months later, but he didn't start school until a year after me, because the program was full."

Both were able to juggle their jobs and course work to keep their heads above water. They earned associate degrees from Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Jason in 2000, and Chad in 2001. One other male graduated with Jason, and, at one time, all three male hygienists worked in the same county.

For the past 31/2 years, Jason has worked for Red Arrow Dentistry in Bridgman, Mich. Chad has been with Dr. Mary Anderson in Saint Joseph, Mich., for 21/2 years.

The twins are single with no children, and still live together, though Chad has just bought a house and is involved in projects for it. Chad's other hobbies are running and lifting weights.

Jason is also a runner, and in his spare time he reads political books and biographies, and dabbles in screenwriting.

Both of them are thankful for their mom's advice.

"She got us going in a great job," Jason says. "It was a very good decision. Both of us only work 30 to 32 hours a week — they're pretty much awesome hours. I like to stay up late and sleep in, so three of my work days are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m."

Chad is more of an early riser, and he likes his hours of 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week.

Stress levels can be high at times, they admit, but for the most part, "hygiene is an ideal job."

It might be interesting, Chad's co-workers think, if the twins worked in the same office, but they don't agree.

"Since we live together, if we worked in the same office, too, we'd see each other too much and get on each other's nerves. This is much better."
— written by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH