Is your dental hygiene integrity showing? Adopt strong moral principles consistently

Feb. 17, 2016
By Jannette Whisenhut: Adopt strong moral principles consistently during a dental hygiene career.


This is a question we do not ask ourselves very often, if ever. We know it when we see it, but do others see integrity in us? We just had a wonderful dentist who worked with our program pass away this past month, and of all the words I could say about him, "He had integrity" says it best. He was a wonderful person, and he worked his entire career with integrity and good character. Is that something that you can say, or more importantly, something others would say about you? When you think about that term, honesty and being ethical come to mind.

What do you have to do to have integrity? What do you have to do to lose your integrity? If that ever happens, can you get it back? These are a few questions I would like to discuss this month. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines integrity as "the quality of being honest and fair and the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness." As a new hygienist, this may not be something that's even on your radar, but it should be. Before you know it, five years will have passed and you will have a reputation! It's not something that you think about day-to-day when you're working, but every day that you work, it's important how you do your work.

Do you treat every patient with kindness, the way you would treat your family? Your patients can tell if you're interested in them or if they are just another name on your list. Do you take time to get to know your patients? Do you treat them with respect and good manners? This is something that may not seem important, but it can make the difference in a patient trusting you and your skills and knowledge, or a patient deciding to go somewhere else because he or she feels taken advantage of or not cared about. It may seem like this takes a lot of your time to do, but it really doesn't. As you walk your patient back to your room, being kind and asking about their day will go a long way toward making the person feel comfortable. Talking to patients like you want to get to know them will help them feel good about how you're treating them.

When you think about what you do every day, you are a team member, and how everyone in the office treats the patient is very important. One person in an office can throw things off and the culture of the office will become off balance. You need to make sure that everyone is on the same page with how the office wants to be seen by patients. Sometimes-and I know you have seen this-it is the hygienist and assistants who keep the patients coming back, not the dentist!

Help and mentor one another to make sure patients are taken care of the way you would want to be taken care of in a dental office. Take a few minutes and think about how you define good service from an office. Most of the time it is a good attitude, time spent with you, and friendly conversation, and you feel like the staff has your best interest in mind and are not taking you for granted or trying to get money out of you for something that was not needed. This is something that a coworker said to me about our dentist who passed away. She said he was so friendly and that she felt that he took such good care of her teeth. She believed he did what was needed to keep her mouth healthy, but he didn't try to do things that were not needed. She expressed that she would really miss him. I was not surprised to hear this about him.

Dentistry is a small business and all dentists want their patients well taken care of. Unfortunately, there is a very small minority that is all about the money and not the people.

You can lose your integrity, and unfortunately, it can happen very quickly. Just like the old saying, "It takes a lifetime to build your reputation and a minute to ruin it,"-that is how fast your integrity can be lost. If you're doing fraudulent activity and filing for procedures that are not being done, or you are not keeping up with the standard of care, these things can cause you to lose your reputation. I had a conversation with a dentist recently who said he was ashamed of a dentist he knows who is not keeping up with the standard of care and is way behind the times. It's amazing to think that there are dentists out there who are not up to speed like they should be. They may have been good dentists when they started out, but they became lazy and let their patients tell them what they should do, instead of the dentist calling the shots. This can happen with hygienists too. If you don't think it can happen to you, think again!

You have to be aware of how you treat your patients and how your attitude affects them. Remembering things that are personal about your patients can make them feel like you remember them. This can happen by making notes in their chart so that you can ask about things at their recall appointments. I would recommend that you change the topic every year or so in order to keep from asking about the same thing every time. That can backfire on you.

Think about what you want patients and your peers to think about and say about you. Will it be that you are above reproach and always do the right thing? Or will it be that you take shortcuts, are not up to speed, or do not practice the standard of care? "People who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable. They are principled and can be counted on to behave in honorable ways even when no one is watching." (Susan Heathfield)

Just as a side note-one of my instructors talked about integrity the other day when she didn't know I was listening. She talked about how the students should always do the right thing about infection control, even when someone isn't watching, and that's what integrity is. I think what she taught them was invaluable, and I know that she has integrity in how she teaches our students. She made me very proud that day! Integrity is not a thing of the past.

Your integrity is very valuable and you would dearly miss it if it was gone. A bad reputation is almost impossible to overcome. You care so much about your career and you have worked so hard to get your license, you need to pay attention to your integrity. Care about how you do your job. Show your love of your career and patients. Take care of your integrity, and happy scaling!

In respectful and loving memory of Dr. Joseph S. BurnhamRDH

JANNETTE WHISENHUNT, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].


What Is Integrity - Really? Honesty and Trust Are Integral to Integrity; By Susan M. Heathfield. Human Resources Expert.

Kimbough VJ, Lautar CJ. (2012). Ethics, Jurisprudence, and Practice Management in Dental Hygiene. 3rd ed.