Think different: The crazy round pegs in square holes! Can they make dental hygiene better in 2017?

Jan. 16, 2017
JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, says dental hygiene should be proud of its members who dare to think differently.

By JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD

Here we are again at the start of another year. This is the time we make promises to ourselves and anyone who will listen that we will be better in some way. It is the resolution season. Rather than make those determinations that seem so hard to keep after one week or so, let's try something else this year. Let's be bold. In 2017, let's change the landscape of dental hygiene and oral health care.

You are probably thinking this woman has lost her mind. Not so. I just finished reading Walter Isaacson's book, "Steve Jobs." It is long, but the ending took my breath away. Isaacson describes a commercial that was used to restore Apple in 1997. It was called "Think Different." The original one was read by Richard Dreyfuss, but Jobs recorded a different version that is inspiring:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. They push the race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

What do we need to think different about? We need to think that we are as important as any other health-care provider. We are not less than or subservient to others. We need to own what we do as preventive oral health professionals and take charge of the domain we represent. That means we stop letting the front office staff "fit in" an extra patient in an open 15-minute slot; we actually provide patient education as a separate procedure rather than trying to squeeze that in while scaling and root planing; we order the supplies we need to run our practice; we stop relying on others to make clinical decisions for us; and we schedule our own patients so they each receive the time they deserve that is appropriate to their diagnosis and treatment needs.

Think different means we address the current inadequate oral health-care system in this country and fight to change it. Rather than hoping someone else figures out this mess, we take on the challenge of bringing oral health care to the unserved and underserved, and get reimbursed for our services. Enough of the policymakers who only want to be re-elected, and the dentists who are fearful of midlevel providers and advanced dental hygiene practitioners. The oral health of the public in this country is inexcusable. So let's be the round pegs in the square hole. Find your voice and the voices of others and start shouting until you cannot be ignored, county by county, state by state, until every child and family is receiving oral care.

Lastly, let's totally shatter the glass ceiling of dental hygiene education and licensure. It is well past time we had a national licensure system versus this regional-based process that only acknowledges so many states and procedures. We are in the 21st century. All dental hygiene programs should teach advanced skills so that we can be licensed and employed in any state. Further, the education process takes more than two years. It should be four. We've known this since the mid-1980s. The only way we are going to make these changes happen is if we make them happen. Dentistry got us started and controlled the profession for more than 100 years. It is time to be bold, to think differently, to push forward, and to take charge of the issues that are relevant to the profession of dental hygiene.

Let's push ourselves to be a little crazy this year and move the needle forward toward a healthier public and a healthier profession. Happy New Year! RDH

JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, and past president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.