Go watch some paint dry at ADHA

The thought of bureaucracies makes me long for the activity of watching paint dry or, if I need a little extra spice, crunching open my fingernails with a can opener. Why would anyone willingly devote a life to mind-numbing committees where people debate if any bylaws have been violated by using two staples to fasten paper instead of one. Don`t worry. I fully acknowledge where we would be if there were no law enforcement agencies, Habitat for Humanity, or United Way.

We`ll always need menders, but why do you allow them to control how much they`ll mend?

Mark Hartley, Editor

The thought of bureaucracies makes me long for the activity of watching paint dry or, if I need a little extra spice, crunching open my fingernails with a can opener. Why would anyone willingly devote a life to mind-numbing committees where people debate if any bylaws have been violated by using two staples to fasten paper instead of one. Don`t worry. I fully acknowledge where we would be if there were no law enforcement agencies, Habitat for Humanity, or United Way.

Let`s just say I savor the fact that I don`t have to spend too much time around government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or trade associations. I guess I should feel differently. During a recent Christmas season, when the private sector graciously gave me a coffee cup as a bonus, a buddy and all of her colleagues who worked for wages (not volunteers) at a nonprofit agency received a crisp $100 bill as a bonus. What troubled me about it was that the agency`s existence depends on donations from charitable people who think it would be nice to see a disease cured.

The coffee cup, by the way, is used for ice cream since I don`t drink coffee. The thinking is that I need to eat less ice cream, and a coffee cup has a smaller interior than a bowl, as a geometry teacher once explained. However, I have a gift for packing ice cream containing nuggets of white chocolate and almonds into a coffee cup. Where I used to just flick scoops into a bowl, I now meticulously line the cylindrical walls of the cup with layers, then stuff the interior tightly. I probably should start using a bowl again.

During the past 21 years, I`ve also observed the above bureaucracies in a professional capacity. I remain thankful that free enterprise suits me just fine. If you`re questioning why I used the words "trade associations" above, go ahead; that`s what we`re going to be talking about in a minute.

First, it needs to be made crystal clear that I`m about the last guy you`ll see at a Wal-Mart on Saturdays recruiting fellow Americans into an bureaucratic association of other fellow Americans. It`s either a personality disorder or an admirable trait - your pick; I`m just letting you know what I`m like as a person.

Now that I`ve established that I`m probably the last person on the planet to actively advocate membership in the American Dental Hygienists` Association, allow me to actively advocate this: There`s probably not going to be a more critical time in your career for you to participate in "organized hygiene."

Everything you`ve worked for - all of the ambitions, paychecks, healed patients, great friendships, etc. - is in jeopardy. Why? No one can define what a dental hygienist is any more. Those other bureaucratic dental associations, the ones that dentists belong to, have so completely muddled up the definition of what a hygienist is that the concept of dental hygiene is rapidly becoming meaningless in the United States. Who are you, what are you supposed to do, and how are you trained? Go ahead. Walk into a room full of hygienists and ask those questions. You might get as many answers from hygienists as you would from dentists. That`s the scary part.

Hygienists collectively need to define who they are. For example, if you agree that four or more years of college is necessary for "periodontal therapists," make it happen. At the other extreme, if you collectively agree that a little on-the-job "prophy" training at the hands of a dentist is sufficient, vote for it - although I`ll be a little perplexed if you treat the health of my fellow Wal-Mart shoppers so casually.

If those other dental bureaucracies get in the way, stick your tongue out at them. It`s your life, not theirs. You made the decision to dedicate your life to preventing disease, which kind of gets in the way of the income restorative dentistry provides. We`ll always need menders, but why do you allow them to control how much they`ll mend? You should be setting the pace for restorative dentistry, not dentists.

But how are you going to set the pace if the definition of dental hygiene is so unclear? As an individualist, I`d love to think that each one of you individually could blaze trails. That`s naive. Join the ADHA and collectively define the value of your profession.

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com

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