Why bother with CE? Why not?

Jan. 1, 2003
I periodically hear hygienists grumble about mandatory continuing education requirements.

By: Anne Nugent Guignon

I periodically hear hygienists grumble about mandatory continuing education requirements. Worse yet, I occasionally receive a panic-stricken phone call from someone wanting to know when or where they can take a course, pronto, because their renewal period is about to expire. Situations like this just amaze me, especially since I don't remember a year where I didn't have at least double or triple the minimum number of credits. Call me an education junkie if you want. Living in Houston certainly lends itself to a wide variety of opportunities, so it would be easy to rack up all of these hours without ever leaving the city limits. However, I can't imagine limiting myself to such a small area of exposure.

One of my CE adventures last September got quite complicated. Before it was all over there was a showdown between Mother Nature and me over attending the American Academy of Perio-dontology meeting in New Orleans. When I first thought of going I quickly dismissed the idea because I was scheduled to speak in Springfield, Mo., on Saturday. But when I looked at the meeting programs and the well-known speakers, I just couldn't resist the challenge of getting to the Big Easy on the way to the Ozarks. Careful planning proved it was possible to be in New Orleans from Wednesday evening until Friday morning, but the proposed schedule did not factor in a hurricane!

Since taking risks is part of my nature, the idea of flying into New Orleans with a hurricane rapidly approaching didn't sway me much. The flight was smooth and uneventful but that was the last hitch-free moment. New Orleans is well below sea level. It had been raining all day. Streets and freeways were flooded. Roads were closed. Intersections were impassable. The French Quarter looked like a ghost town, but still I was determined to get to the meeting. I kept wondering if I would ever get to my hotel.

By the time I arrived, all of the Thursday morning meetings and exhibits had been cancelled and nearly all of the restaurants in town were closed. Fortunately, the hotel restaurant across the street was still open. They assumed the daunting task of feeding hundreds of hungry conventioneers a hodgepodge of whatever food they could pull out of their freezer. No one complained. We realized this might be the last real food any one of us might see until Izzy passed through.

Gusty winds and torrential rain hit in the middle of the night but by mid-morning the skies had dried up. Izzy's appearance seemed like a bad dream; however, the city was not prepared for such a quick weather reversal. Hotel employees, stranded in outlying areas, could not report for work. This provided me with the opportunity to give my hotel manager, Rodney, a first-hand lesson in Omelets 101.

Fortunately, the programs and exhibits resumed at noon, even though all the speakers had not arrived and other meeting participants had left early in anticipation of the impending storm. But all was not lost. I still had a half-day to accomplish my mission. Fortunately, I got to listen to the one person that I had come to hear speak. Ninety minutes of listening to Dr. Sig Socransky was just amazing. His ground-breaking research into the various types of pathogenic organisms found in the sulcus is changing how we think about this disease, how we can detect disease activity soonere using sulfide-detecting diagnostic probes, and, finally, how we can treat our patients earlier than ever.

Exactly one month later, I routed myself through New Orleans again, this time to catch the last day of the exhibits at the ADA meeting. I was on a mission again. The ADA exhibit hall is fertile ground. A plethora of new products, diagnostics, and therapeutics await the soul brave enough to travel the miles of aisles in search of new ideas. There was way too much to see and absorb in one day, but a number of things caught my attention.

Philips was showcasing the new Sonicare Elite brush. Lines of people snaked around their booth waiting to try the new brush in their own mouths. The new brush features a more compact head set at an angle and the handle is lighter and slimmer than the original design.

As I was walking through the aisles I spied a booth for the Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation. Sufferers of this disorder are desperate for any relief from chronic xerostomia. They offered me a little booklet that details products that help people with Sjögren's. One of the products that has proven successful is Omni Pharmaceutical's alcohol-free spray, Breathtech™, which also contains fluoride and special moisturizers. Will it help prevent speaker's dry mouth? I'm willing to give it a try.

Earlier in the week I made plans to meet up with a hygiene buddy around lunchtime. After we downed a quick bite we went in search of new products. She steered me to a booth that had a device that looked like a giant hairdryer, called the Energex™ made by a company called Orthosonix. The device is being used in this country to treat patients suffering from TMJ pain and limited range of motion.

For years I have experienced varying degrees of stiffness and soreness in the TMJ area, so I was willing to give the device a try. Even though one application of the low level electrical stimulation to the soft tissue is not considered sufficient for long-term results, I did experience a definite reduction in soft tissue tightness. The treatment took 90 seconds, and I had a sensation of mild warmth in the treated areas. Imagine the possibilities if the Energex could be used on clinicians suffering with carpal tunnel syndrome or provide relief to persons suffering from conditions like arthritis.

My friend and I parted ways, and I continued my search for new products. My next two finds dealt with products that are part of our everyday lives as hygienists: toothbrushes and gloves. Personally I just love the fact that brush manufacturers are considering ergonomics. Most of the new designs have larger handles, substantial grips, thumb pads and offset heads. These features are improvements for most patients, but the newest hand brush that caught my eye was the Mentadent White&Clean™.

It initially looked like many of the other high-tech, new-wave brushes on the market, but, on closer inspection, I saw that a solid, flexible strip snaked through a traditional bristle configuration. The manufacturer claims that this ribbon will act like a squeegee, resulting in white teeth. Interesting concept, unusual feel, we'll see — but if it makes patients replace a worn out toothbrush, hurray!

As I was whizzing through the aisles trying to beat the clock, I came across something that warms my ergonomic heart. There is a well-deserved trend to make dental environments latex-free. Attempting to develop a latex-free dental office is a very laudable goal; however, there are hundreds of products that are made of latex, so this can be a rather daunting task. Manufacturers of items such as prophy cups are designing latex-free products and, on a clinical level, the performance is very similar to that of latex.

But, with a product like gloves, it is a whole different story.

Those of you who have chosen to or who have been forced to abandon latex gloves know that it has been very difficult to find a nonlatex glove that provides optimal fit. The original nitrile gloves were thick and had very little give or ability to stretch. Through the years other options came down the pike but nothing has really come close to the latex fit. Nitrile is a polymer and polymer chemists love a challenge that can have a practical application. Microflex makes gloves and the company's scientists have developed a nitrile glove called the FreeFormSE. The longer you wear it, the more it stretches and it and is about as thin as latex. This is a breakthrough — a nitrile glove that acts and feels like latex.

You owe it to the patients who expect you to be the best that you can be. You owe it to yourself to figure out how to be the most well-informed clinician possible. Informed hygienists practice in the real comfort zone.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics (www.ergosonics.com). She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at [email protected].

So why did I brave hurricanes and reroute my flights to attend the meetings described in this column? Would I do it again? Yes! I have learned so much.

If you are in doubt about the value of making the effort, consider the following advantages of going a bit farther than your own hometown:

• Reaffirm that what you have been doing clinically is up to date
• Opportunity to hear new speakers
• Hear a different point of view
• See how research can be applied in the clinical setting
• Learn about new products and techniques
• Understand how dental hygiene supports "whole body" health and wellness
• Create liaisons/alliances with other dental professionals
• Understand the business side of dentistry and dental hygiene better
• Networking with other dental professionals

I've given you nine reasons to consider going farther than a day's travel to learn something new. Certainly I did not think of everything, but it is important to stretch your thoughts way past what you thought was possible. Meetings in a remote location are not the total answer, but they can blast you out of complacency. They will force you to examine your reasons for wanting new information.