By Diane Chandler
Today I decided to focus on dental hygiene in a new way. All of us can make an endless list of the problems we have with hygiene, but how many of us will stop and list the benefits of working in dental hygiene? And I don't mean the money. I believe we have all gained numerous life skills from working in this field.
The first is organization. There is not a single one of us who has not juggled our schedule to accommodate our patients, our employer, or both. We all have had dumped on us that extra patient whose name didn't quite make it to the appointment book, and who the front desk told would be "gladly seen." I have learned to creatively juggle my day to service all of my scheduled patients, as well as all of the "you will be gladly seen" additions, and still make it out on time. Now that is organization!
Hygienists are also excellent at assessment. Every day we try to figure out where a patient is and where he or she should be. We use our experience and training to give the patient a workable game plan. We assess motor skills, motivation, areas of focus, and areas of successful hygiene. We do all of this almost subconsciously. We have also become pros at evaluation. While this may seem like the same thing, it is really very different. When we evaluate a patient, especially a recall patient, we are actually evaluating ourselves. We learn if any of the patient education we did worked. If it didn't, then we go back to assessment and try another approach — perhaps another dental aid or different method of tooth brushing.
Another life skill hygienists develop is interaction. We sharpen our people skills when we interact with patients, employers, and co-workers, and this doesn't always involve exchanging pleasantries. We also develop the important ability to put people at ease. How many times have we faced a scared patient who has not had his or her teeth cleaned in 10 years? The ability to calmly "walk him through it" certainly counts as an important life skill. Another valuable part of interaction is being a team player who helps set the professional tone of the office. For the office to work effectively, it must be all for one and one for all. As cliché as it is, there really is no "i" in team, a life skill hygienists have learned.
Finally, I believe we all become critical thinkers. Because we have a skill, we can better evaluate products that suit our hygiene needs. We can request a better tasting prophy paste or a more dependable disposal prophy angle. We can share our opinion with other hygienists and find out if they share the same thoughts. We can discuss the pros and cons of a tetracycline lavage, and we can zero in on the fluoride least likely to give our patients an upset stomach.
As I sat down to write this, I realized I am getting much more out of this profession than I thought.
Diane Chandler, RDH, has practiced dental hygiene in the same office for 19 years. One a year, during dental awareness month, she provides a dental information program to her community through a public access cable network. She can be contacted at [email protected]