The Right Choice

Oct. 1, 2007
Overnight flights are a great time for reflection and pondering life decisions. I have spent more than one flight solving small issues and writing out plans for living life just a little better.

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

Overnight flights are a great time for reflection and pondering life decisions. I have spent more than one flight solving small issues and writing out plans for living life just a little better. During a trip from California to Washington, D.C., for RDH Under One Roof 2007, I found myself dwelling on how my life would be different without the profession of dental hygiene.

Clinical dental hygiene has never been my first career choice - a fact that is no secret. Yet, there is no denying my choice of profession has provided me with unique experiences and opportunities absent in other career paths. I have met inspiring people, visited amazing places, and learned lessons both fun and hard. As much as it hurts to admit, dental hygiene has been good to me.

Inspiring people from all walks of life have entered my life through dental hygiene. Patients have touched me with their life stories of heroism and strength as well as tales of heartache and lessons learned. My trip to D.C. provided perhaps my last chance to pay tribute to such a hero. Lt. Col. James Carberry, The Rock, joined the Army at age 18 and worked his way up from private over the course of more than one war. Along with his humorous stories of life inside the military, Jim also shared moving tales about his wife and those he commanded. At our last appointment together he lamented about growing old, missing his wife who passed away in 1994, and his desire to finish his duties here on earth. Shortly thereafter, Jim died peacefully.

I arrived at UOR a couple of days early specifically to visit Jim’s plot at Arlington National Cemetery. Since his burial was only one month prior to my arrival, I was afraid it would be hard to find information on his location. The staff at Arlington was helpful and respectful, taking the time not to rush my questions and quietly finding the information I requested. The woman assisted me with a constant calming smile - a wonderful example of how each person on earth deserves to be treated.

Lt. Col. James Carberry taught me a lesson in showing love, even after his earthly tour was over. On many headstones in Arlington, the service member’s name is larger than that of the spouse, and in most cases the male’s name is listed first. At first, I thought the listing was dependent on order of death, but reading the dates proved me wrong. The manner of placing names on the headstones is likely embedded in tradition. Jim was able to order his marker when his wife, Tiki, died, and he decided how the names would appear. Tiki is listed first with larger lettering, showing Jim’s love for his eternal sweetheart and his strongly held belief that she was most important in his life.

Dental hygiene brought Jim and many other inspirational people into my operatory over the years, richly blessing me for the better. While I might have met these individuals through other avenues, I doubt the connection would have been the same. Treating oral health needs puts us in the position to ask questions that lead to relationships not found in other professional roles.

On the flip side are those people who enter my life to show me who and what I do not want to become. One of my first clinical jobs in California was with a dentist who should have been in any line of work that did not include humans. Dr. Ornery slumped around the office and grumbled loud enough for all to hear. None of us on his staff was competent in his eyes, and he made sure we knew it on a regular basis. Since dentistry was also less than thrilling for me, I often went with the flow, found petty things to complain about, and left each night in a mood more foul than when I arrived. The ah-ha moment came the day Dr. Ornery pulled me into his office to yell at me for not following simple instructions. It was a rule that he be able to see the compressor light from his office chair, and I had placed a box on the table blocking his view. After my admission of guilt, I laughed and gave my resignation. It took me over a year to find another permanent position with co-workers and an employer who make the environment uplifting and the work not a drudgery. I hope never to become like Dr. Ornery.

While attending UOR, another such uninspiring person showed up as a reminder to be a more positive energy to those around me. This particular woman sat behind me and complained through the entire course. She didn’t want to be there, she had better things to do, and she was upset with the outfit chosen by the presenter. From the words she spoke and her tone of voice, the entire experience was just downright painful for her. My first inclination was to turn around and ask her why she didn’t just leave and make it more comfortable for everyone around her, but then she answered before I could ask. She needed the credits for a license renewal the next month. I kept my mouth shut, she got her CE credits, and those of us in her section got a reminder of how miserable life can be if you work at it hard enough.

My decision to stick with dental hygiene has provided opportunities to travel and visit places I might otherwise have missed. Being raised an Air Force brat, my childhood was filled with traveling. Staying in one place for more than four years is challenging to those of us who remember when 111 days prior to the next move, all our furniture disappeared from the house. Dental hygiene offers courses and events all over the country that allow us not only to travel, but also to write off a portion of the expenses on our taxes!

Most of my time on U.S. soil has been lived on the west side of the country. Attending UOR, the ADHA annual session, CareerFlow, and other courses have given me the opportunity to see how the east half lives as well. Napa, California, is beautiful and living here is a dream come true, but nothing beats Daytona Beach, Fla., in January. I’ll trade rain and fog for 80 degrees anytime. Dental hygiene has been a wonderful cure for cabin fever.

Learning experiences are abundant in our profession. I have learned that at least once in every clinical career you will meet the patient who needs an ear more than a prophy. Co-workers have taught me that a good mood can be contagious if you give it a chance. E-mail friends have taught me that humor does not always carry well in written form, and readers of this column let me know every word can touch someone. Patients have taught me to listen, and mentors have encouraged me to speak up. My education has continued far beyond obtaining a diploma.

During a night of insomnia a few years ago, I happened upon an e-mail group at This one moment of luck while searching for a place to vent my frustration led to the redefining of my career. Lister friends have challenged my views, encouraged my ambitions, and let me know when I am totally out of line. Outside of the dental realm, the listers stood by me during divorce, illness, and times of plain silliness. Laughing became a part of my daily routine thanks to Amy’s e-mail community. I met my future business partner on “the list,” even though we live in the same town. While I may not always be thankful for my clinical experiences, I will never regret joining AmyRDH.

Dental hygiene is like a full grocery cart: you only enjoy what you take out of it and payment is usually required. Pay your dues and join the ADHA, then select from among all of the educational events our professional association presents. The Web site lists online and interactive choices. Search for courses by first selecting a destination you want to visit. The opportunities are endless. It is true, dental hygiene was not my first choice - but no doubt, it was the right choice.

About the Author

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices in Napa and Sonoma, Calif., in both general and periodontal offices. She is a partner of Dental IQ, a team committed to arranging quality continuing-education opportunities for Northern California. Through her involvement with Dental Hygienists Against Heart Disease and other organizations, she hopes to bring a total health concept to the dental practice. You may contact Lory at [email protected].