The many faces of dental hygiene

Shannon Nanne, RDH, returns to a former employer to rediscover the reasons why she joined the dental hygiene profession.

Feb 1st, 2018
Veteran returns to old office to rediscover the joy of providing oral health care

By Shannon Nanne, RDH

After 23 years in this amazing profession, I have had the opportunity to play many roles and wear many faces. The adventure of being an educator and someone who helps others continues, and I have been asked, “Would you do this again?” Absolutely!

Since graduating in 1994, I have:

Practiced dental hygiene full time

Lectured globally to thousands of dental and medical professionals

  • Worked in pharmaceutical sales


  • Acted as a key opinion leader for several companies


  • Published a book


  • Served as the executive director for Global Forums


  • Volunteered as an event coordinator for foundations


  • Sat on advisory boards and committees


  • Written several articles for many amazing dental magazines


  • Held just about every office of my local dental hygiene component


  • Dental hygiene is a personal experience, in and out of the office, no matter if you are gloved up in someone’s mouth or organizing a walk for oral cancer awareness in your local community.


Last week, I was excited to be back in my old office getting down and dirty in clinical practice. I hate to be cliché about it, stating here that it was like riding a bike. So I will say it was like cooking in the kitchen with new appliances. I believe my clinical hygiene was the best it had ever been on that day. After educating for over 17 years and practicing intermittently throughout the past eight, life has taken over and the PTA President/mom in me has won for the time being. When I lecture, I tell my peers that the exam starts right in the waiting room, listening to the sound of the patient’s voice, looking at the symmetry of their face and the noticing the odors coming from their mouth.

Jumping out of the box is a necessity in life, and change happens right before our eyes. Dentistry is no different. Gone are the days of dipping rays, hand charting, and lights on the wall indicating a wait for a check after completing a prophy. One thing remains the same—the personal part of our profession. We are a hands-on profession in the office, and we should continue to be hands-on out of the office, attending continuing education classes with our peers and not accomplishing all of our CEs online. Looking outside the imaginary rectangle box around the oral cavity is exciting and simply a way you could possibly save a life!

My first patient cancelled, and I laughed as I recalled past memories of schedules and how difficult it is for some people to keep one.

The next patient was a 13-year-old, beautiful girl who just came down from the orthodontist. Her mother said, “Please review hygiene with her carefully as she needs a good teacher.” This was perfect and right up my alley, and I was seriously up for the challenge! She sat down and told me she had some pain, pointing toward #2.

Dental hygiene is a personal experience, in and out of the office, no matter if you are gloved up in someone’s mouth or organizing a walk for oral cancer awareness in your local community.

After a complete oral cancer exam, filled with laughter from “it tickles” to some grimacing from “I can feel that,” I found an apthous ulcer. It was small and hard to find, but big enough to cause her discomfort. I treated her with some debacterol while another hygienist in the office gloved up and came to watch me apply it. It was like a live audience CE course that I absolutely was excited to present. Her 16-year brother was next, and he told me that he never had someone feel his face like that. He was intrigued by my exam and even asked to hold a mirror to watch me.

After 17 years presenting continuing education classes on subjects such as skin cancer awareness for the dental professional and how to conduct a correct oral cancer exam, I was in my element.

My last patient was very familiar to me. After completing her medical history update, I asked if she was suffering from dry mouth because of the acne medication she had recently started. I educated her about xerostomia. We discussed products that she was currently using and how ingredients such as alcohol and SLS may exacerbate her dryness. During her oral cancer exam, I noted some slight clicking on her right side and asked if she was suffering from any pain. She looked up at me with her beautiful eyes that matched her smile and said, “That is how I know you!”

As we looked back into her chart, we discovered that I had made a notation of this same clicking noise in 2005 when she was in tenth grade. She was referred to an orthodontist at that time since we noted that her bite was slightly off and ortho could possibly help alleviate her pain. Unfortunately, she never made the appointment. The pain had gradually gotten worse over the years and I brought it to her attention yet once again, 12 years later. Dental hygienists certainly can recognize when something isn’t quite what it should be. She also had a lot of rescission and root sensitivity.

We continued our discussion on ingredients in toothpastes. She was adamant that she would only use a whitening paste. Ironically, the office had samples of True White paste that had no SLS and was a perfect fit for her! She was a very happy patient, and it made a great end to my day of clinical hygiene!

I challenge you to be the best hygienist you can be your next day of clinical practice, regardless if your patient is late, scared, or just does not want to be there. Overcome it and turn that visit around. Take the initiative to remember something you learned in your last continuing education course and use it. Only you have the power to bring your clinical and personal dental hygiene practice back to life while being the best you can be!

Shannon Nanne, RDH, is the executive director of the Global Oral Cancer Forum. She helps promote the changes required for a substantial impact on incidence, morbidity, and mortality of oral cancer worldwide. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 1994.She is a key opinion leader for several companies, publications, and associations, as well as an ambassador with The Oral Cancer Foundation. Shannon has held an executive board position at the Cleveland Dental Hygiene Association for over 15 years and continues to create awareness on oral cancer and its horrific side effects. She can be contacted at shannonnsnne@yahoo.com.

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