Editor's Note

The American Academy of Periodontology released the results of a survey in late June, reinforcing how Americans would prefer to clean a toilet than floss their teeth.

The American Academy of Periodontology released the results of a survey in late June, reinforcing how Americans would prefer to clean a toilet than floss their teeth.

Dental hygienists were not mentioned in the announcement about the survey.

Dentists, though, were mentioned. A quarter of consumers "lie to their dentist" about whether they floss. The academy used the results to proclaim "more work needs to be done" in educating dental patients.

The news about the AAP survey filtered down to the doctors in the group practice over on Fones Street. With hangdog expressions, they gathered for the weekly routine meeting between the dentists.

"Gosh, I just don't know about this. This is awful. Can't imagine anyone preferring to clean a toilet over cleaning their own teeth," one dentist muttered forlornly.

"Yeah, or wash a sink full of dirty dishes instead of flossing," another doctor added. "The soap my wife uses is pretty good, but flossing is still easier and more painless, right?"

"It gets worse than that," another dentist pointed out. "Americans would rather wait in a long line, file their taxes, or get stuck in a traffic jam than floss."

"Guys, I would chill out a bit," the fourth doctor said. "I don't talk to the patients about flossing."

"What are you talking about? You should!"

"Nah," the guiltless doctor replied, "If the hygienist says the patient is falling asleep at the wheel in regard to home care, I'll reinforce what she says. Tell the patient to shape up. But she does all of the patient education."

"The hygienist!" the others exclaimed. "Let's get her in here right now!"

After a minute or two, the hygienist sticks her head in the door. "You gents called?"

"You bet we did," one of the angry doctors said. "We pay you a king's ransom to educate patients about oral hygiene, and now we got patients all over the place who would rather do unpleasant household chores than follow your instructions. What do you say to that?"

Multiple choice. Does the hygienist:

a. Go over everything that needs to be accomplished in the short appointment time with each patient?

b. Explain that the doctors need to give more than lip service to preventive care?

c. Heave some heavy objects in the general direction of the doctors?

Perhaps the AAP's exclusion of dental hygienists is an indirect acknowledgement that the buck stops at the top when there's a failure to communicate to patients. Nevertheless, whenever there is a report on an oral health crisis that could have been prevented if, uh, someone had just done their job, there's going to be enough people wondering if dental hygiene's OHI works as advertised.

The AAP, of course, is committed to ensuring the periodontal health of Americans, and the survey results support the association's "Love the Gums You're With" campaign to remind consumers that periodontists are standing by to be helpful.

Back in the darkest days of the recession, unemployed or underemployed dental hygienists were calling the American Dental Hygienists' Association on a daily basis. Finally, the ADHA leadership said, "Create your own opportunity."

This was not exactly music to the ears of someone behind on paying bills. But the point is that, in today's dental employment culture, there is some allowance for creativity in making a living with the skill set of a dental hygienist.

There's a downside, of course, to any career path, and some hygienists are failing to find happiness and satisfaction as a consultant, corporate marketer, academician, etc. A departure from a traditional dental practice is not a guarantee to a blissful career.

In my opinion, the happiest dental hygienists are those who recognize what the profession is, on a daily basis as divined by the profession's pioneers and leaders. Entrepreneurship is what's in your heart, and you make the choice not because you have to do it, but because you want to do it. Otherwise, it's not that difficult to persuade someone that oral hygiene really is something much more preferable than cleaning the dishes after a large meal. Good health is much more exciting than mundane chores.

Mark Hartley

markh@pennwell.com

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