Depalma Grey

Targeting age differences

May 1, 2018
Ann-Marie DePalma, RDH, reviews two programs taught by Trisha Cloutier, RDH. The programs focus on how dental hygienists can better understand generational differences they might encounter in their patients and colleagues.
Cloutier’s seminar embraces generational differences in dental hygiene

Ann-Marie C. Depalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

Dental hygiene practices typically have patients from many generations: traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials. Dental hygienists are members of these generations as well. Understanding each generation’s beliefs and motivations can help you relate to your colleagues and patients. Trisha Cloutier, RDH, MA, CDA, has created two programs, “Generational Differences Related to the RDH” and “Generational Differences as They Relate to the Oral Health of Your Patients,” that provide insights into each generation’s views of oral health and employment.

“Generational Differences Related to the RDH” explores the differences between the generations and discusses how they perceive the future of health care and how to identify and embrace these differences. It also reviews different types of dental hygiene practice models and health-care trends that can revitalize your career. “Generational Differences as They Relate to the Oral Health of Your Patients” also reviews the differences between generations and their views of the future of health care. This program will also help you recognize the oral health needs of your patients as related to their medical histories, oral health assessments, and treatment requirements. Whether you have been practicing for one year or 40 years, both programs can reignite the passion that made you become a hygienist.

Trisha was inspired to create the programs when she was returning from the 2010 RDH Under One Roof conference in Orlando. On the flight home, she noticed the Delta Sky Magazine article, “The M Factor,” which piqued her interest.1 The article discussed the millennial generation and how millennials tend to relate to the world. Being a Generation Xer and identifying with many of the characteristics of the generation, she felt she could educate others about the differences that exist between generations and became inspired to create the programs.

With the recession in full swing at the time, Trisha met many hygienists who were worried about the economy and their employment. Many of the baby boomers she encountered had only associate’s degrees and needed advice and direction. With research, Trisha incorporated ways to reinvent oneself into her program. She asks participants where they want to be professionally and looks toward the future of the profession. She reminds participants that disparities exist in all of the generations. For example, not all boomers are affluent or college-educated. She designed the course to be fun and interactive to encourage participants to see their dental hygiene or personal goals as attainable while moving out of their comfort zones.

Whether you have been practicing for one year or 40 years, both programs can reignite the passion that made you become a hygienist.

Aside from being interested in generational differences, Trisha created the continuing education programs because she wanted to challenge herself to move out of her own comfort zone. She believes that you have to practice what you preach. She credits her mentors for guiding her to her current role.

Trisha fell into dental hygiene by accident. She had a tough first year at Rhode Island College and was looking for the shortest program to achieve a degree. She found the dental assisting program and fell in love with dentistry. After receiving her certificate, she worked in private practice and eventually ended up in dental hygiene.

Trisha began her educational career as an adjunct clinical instructor at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts after she graduated from the Community College of Rhode Island’s dental hygiene program and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island. She continued her education at the university and earned a master’s degree in adult education. She became an assistant professor at Bristol Community College and the sophomore clinical coordinator. Always wanting to continue to grow and challenge herself, she recently became the college’s dental hygiene department chair and program director.

She feels working as a clinical coordinator has been her greatest accomplishment in dental hygiene so far since that is where she engaged students to love dental hygiene and the rigors of the hygiene program. Altering the culture as an adult educator, she applied adult learning theories to change the face of clinical intimidation to one of empowerment. She found students appreciated being valued and respected while standards and expectations remained high. This proved to be a win-win for the students and the program.

Trisha is a member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and appreciates colleagues who are striving to improve access to oral health by creating models of dental hygiene practice across the country. With the myriad state rules and regulations, it is often difficult to understand all that the individual requirements entail. During the “Generational Differences” program, she provides information about the different practice models and who is introducing and supporting them.

One of her passions is education. Whether educating students or peers, she enjoys imparting knowledge and wisdom. She finds it gratifying to know that she has helped people change or grow. Occasionally someone approaches her months or years later to say, “Remember when you told me such and such? Well, I did it, and it was better than I thought!” Trisha says you can’t put a price on that!

If she were not a hygienist, being a financial advisor would appeal to her since she is industrious, determined, and disciplined. If there is anything she would do differently if she could do it over again, it would be achieving her higher degrees sooner than she did.

Trisha enjoys historical fiction, particularly the World War II era, since her grandparents were traditionalists and didn’t speak much about those times. Also, her daughters and many of her students are millennials, a generation unlike the traditionalists in that they are trying to “define” themselves. Although there is much gloom and doom in the world today, it is fascinating to see the generation take shape. What will they be remembered for? What inventions and discoveries will they make? They are the first generation “raised” on technology, and how will that affect their lives? What will their legacy be? Trisha’s programs offer members of any generation the ability to see the world from a new perspective while learning more about themselves too.

For more information about Trisha or her programs, contact her at [email protected].

Thought for the month:

“The greatest discovery of a generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” —William James

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is the 2017 recipient of the Esther M. Wilkins Distinguished Alumni Award of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygiene/Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie has authored chapters in several texts for dental hygiene. She can be reached at [email protected].


Lancaster LC, Stillman D. The M-factor. Delta Sky Magazine. 2010;66-70.