Content Dam Rdh Print Articles Volume37 Issue6 1706rdhfcwl P01

Daily challenges: The drive for perfection can influence a dental hygienist’s quality of life

June 1, 2017
Jamie Collins, RDH, laments on how the desire to be perfect makes a lasting imprint on a dental hygienist's quality of life.

It’s no surprise that a day in the field of dentistry can be hard and full of aches and pains, literally and figuratively. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do as a clinical hygienist; however, some days bring more challenges than others from patients, coworkers, or both. Most of us must work in order to afford the staples and luxuries of life, and keeping the balance between work and life can be a challenge.

After nearly 20 years in dentistry, just when I think I’ve seen it all, something new pops up and surprises me. Like fingerprints, no two patients’ mouths and oral conditions are the same, and therefore, how we treat each individual varies. If I had a dollar for every patient who came in and told me how much they dread visiting the dentist, my annual salary would receive a huge boost. But fortunately, most patients are somewhat receptive to our suggestions and methods to improve their oral health. Many patients have become my friends, and I’ve laughed and cried and shared in their joys and struggles.

No matter one’s profession, after a full day of work, the second shift of the day begins. As spouses, parents, and caretakers, the workday doesn’t end at 5 p.m. At this point in my life, I race from the office to make dinner and chauffeur kids to practices, all while trying to maintain a household and marriage. Trying to find the balance between work and life is a fine line that many people struggle with, myself included. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize the importance of balance in daily life.

Avoid being overextended

As hygienists, many of us lean toward being perfectionists, and that carries over into all aspects of life. I’m guilty of thinking there’s just a little bit more that I can do, and I often find myself overextended. Society has promoted this image of women having it all and doing it with ease, which seems to be as rare as the elusive unicorn.

Letting go of the idea of being a perfect parent, spouse, and employee can provide you with a great sense of relief and freedom. I’m very blessed to work for an amazing dentist who acknowledges that life exists outside of work, and who allows me to take time to attend school performances and other events. I realize I’m one of the lucky minority as I know many hygienists who need an Act of Congress to take time off from work for family events. How do we work to live but not live to work?

Thanks to technology, today we’re always accessible via e-mails, texts, and phone calls that beckon us to answer immediately. Being home doesn’t always mean we can escape work; however, the beauty of dentistry usually means we can’t take work home with us. When you visit a restaurant, how many patrons are looking at their phones rather than interacting with the other people at the table? Work is just that and should be left at the office whenever possible. Children are young only once, which is a cliché, I know, but as my kids get older, I realize I miss the years that are flying by.

Changing the structure of your life at work and outside of work can help you become less stressed and more productive. This can be as easy as planning your meals, or organizing your errands so you’re on the smoothest route with the least driving. Don’t be afraid to delegate duties or ask for assistance. I often find it hard to allow someone else to help out, but I’ve found that once I do, it alleviates stress and frees up my time. Allowing a child to take over some of the household duties not only takes the chore off you; it also allows the child to grow and learn life skills.

Wellness includes you

We are in the business of health and wellness. When we don’t take of ourselves, we’re not able to care for others. I learned this lesson the hard way a year ago, when a near-fatal reaction to a medication left me in the ICU in critical condition. Before my hospitalization I felt terrible, but I had work and family to attend to, and I tried to take care of others before I took care of myself. When I regained my memory after days in the hospital, I realized that family and health are all that matter. I was released from the hospital on my son’s birthday.

Before that experience, I was the person who couldn’t tell others no, even when I knew there weren’t enough hours in the day. Many of us are caretakers, and others don’t realize who might be dealing with health or mental issues. As a young adult and a new mom, I never thought I’d be raising an autistic child, but that’s what life had in the cards for us. Being her mom has made me more compassionate and understanding toward others, and I’ve learned a lot about patience. After a day at the office, I come home and my often-more-difficult second shift begins. I commend you single parents out there who are keeping it all together while working, and I hope each of you is able to find a balance.

As I sat in that hospital bed and thought about the “what-ifs” that could have changed my family forever, I reevaluated my life. I resolved to find balance with the career I love and the people I love even more. It’s been a yearlong journey, and if I’d had this epiphany before I let myself get so run-down, I might not have experienced such a frightening event. For some, it takes a life-altering event for them to find balance in their lives and take care of themselves. This balance is imperative to making you a better person for yourself and for those you love.

Humans are social beings by nature. We thrive with the love and acceptance of others, both at work and outside of work. Many people complain about visiting the dentist, and honestly, there would be something wrong with them if they enjoyed getting a crown or filling. But making the office a light-hearted environment can ease stress for patients. However, how do we unwind after a day’s work and the second shift? Some look forward to an evening with friends or having a glass of wine with a loved one. Whatever it means for you, share it with someone and find the time to sit back and unwind.

We spend so much time worrying about things that we can’t change or that don’t matter in the overall scheme of life, and those worries take away from our energy and happiness. Too much worry and stress can have an adverse effect on our systemic health. Finding a balance of exercise or meditation to work out the stress of the day is not only good for the body; it also clears the mind. Self-care by eating right and exercising will help keep your energy up and your mind sharp, not to mention it helps with the aches and pains of the dental field. 

About the Author

Jamie Collins, BS, RDH-EA

Jamie Collins, BS, RDH-EA, is licensed in Idaho and Washington states and dedicated to advancing the dental profession. More than 20 years in the dental field has led her to becoming involved in many aspects of patient care. With a passion for patients with high risk factors, Collins enjoys sharing the tips and tricks of the dental profession through speaking and writing, with over 80 articles published worldwide. Collins has also contributed to multiple textbooks, curriculum development, and as a key opinion leader for various companies. She was named the Professional Education Manager at MouthWatch. Contact her at [email protected] or visit

Updated August 8, 2022