Trimming the tree

Dec. 1, 2000
Just imagine if we each had a dental hygiene holiday tree. My tree would have to be huge, and I`d need several boxes of ornaments.

Just imagine if we each had a dental hygiene holiday tree. My tree would have to be huge, and I`d need several boxes of ornaments.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Holiday times give us a chance to relive memories. Traditions abound, allowing us to reminisce and giving us the opportunity to recreate time-honored customs. Holidays and their traditions give us time to reflect about things that have happened to us, people who have come and gone out of our lives, or perhaps the dreams of our future.

I love all of the holiday traditions. Probably my favorite tradition is trimming the holiday tree. When I was a little girl, there were lots of kids and very little money. So my parents looked for creative ways to celebrate and make each one of us feel special. We each treasured having something that was ours alone — something we didn`t have to share with a sibling.

Each year my parents purchased seven different ornaments. There was an annual design theme, but each of the seven ornaments was slightly different. One year, we each received a wooden rocking horse, but each had a different colored saddle. Another year, all the ornaments were brightly colored, hand-painted Mexican tin designs. The theme changed every year, but the tradition went on. Through the years, I`ve added gifts from friends, patients, and co-workers, and now I have a beautiful collection of ornaments.

Every year, as I place the ornaments on the tree one by one, I am flooded with memories of friends, past trips, and earlier years. The tree is loaded with ornaments spanning five decades. It tells my story.

How do I explain the small pewter angel from Dianne, the glass bell from Donna, or the silver snowflake from Jo Ed and Marilyn? How can I explain the turning point in Dianne`s dental visits once her dentinal hypersensitivity was recognized and treated? You can imagine the comfort I felt when Dianne didn`t need anesthesia for a simple prophy and, as a result, no longer suffered from a "two-day, post-dental-visit migraine headache." What about my wonderful hygienist friend Donna, who was there by my side day after day for 10 years? That was a priceless experience. How about my friends Jo Ed and Marilyn? I am reminded of Jo Ed`s sister, Jane, my closest friend in hygiene school, who passed away suddenly two years after finishing dental school.

Just imagine if we each had a dental hygiene holiday tree. My tree would have to be huge, and I`d need several boxes of ornaments! My first box would be loaded. There would be ornaments honoring dental hygiene friends throughout the world — hygienists with whom I`ve shared countless hours of practice, untold numbers of continuing-education courses, thousands of telephone conversations, letters and e-mails, endless hours of planning ADHA functions, and millions of stories and giggles about our dental hygiene days.

There would be ornaments representing classmates and teachers from hygiene and graduate school, a specially designed series for writers who have influenced my professional life and — any writer`s favorite group of ornaments — the editors` collection! Of course, there would a very special decoration for my first dentist-employer, Dr. Kiesendahl. He believed in me from day one, long before I received my RDH certification. Also, I can`t forget my favorite dentists, dental assistants, business assistants, and dental company representatives.

My second ornament box is also bursting at the seams, loaded with all of the special patients I`ve worked with through the years. You know the patients I mean — the one who finally "gets it" after so many years, and the one who just needed to talk or cry or sense the comfort of your gentle touch. What about the patient who just lost a loved one, or the one who tells you many years later that you were the "best hygienist that ever cleaned my teeth?"

Would you include the patients you saw grow up from kindergarten to college? What about that special patient you treated on a temp assignment? He`s the one who thanked you for doing such a good job and you know you`ll never see him again. What about the awkward teen who asked you about bad breath? Remember all of the patients you encouraged to give up tobacco, or the patients who were referred to specialists because you found a suspicious lesion?

So how would you decorate your holiday tree? If you`re a new hygienist, there might be lots of room to hang your ornaments in a perfect artistic arrangement. If you`ve only practiced hygiene for a short while, but have been in dentistry for many years, then you`ll probably have a box full of special ornaments gathered from your days before dental hygiene. Those of us seasoned by years of dental hygiene practice might need to search carefully for more space on our holiday tree — room to hang one more ornament, one more memory.

The holiday season`s celebrations always seem to end too quickly, so before you place your carefully wrapped memories back in the box, take some time to reflect on the beautiful ornaments you`ve collected through the years. Memories, relationships, and encounters — the ultimate holiday comfort zone.

Wishing you happy and peaceful holidays.

The John O. Butler Company, maker of the Butler GUM® brand of oral-care products, will become an official sponsor for the March of Dimes annual WalkAmerica® event, starting in 2001. The company`s goal is to reach the $1 million annual sponsorship level. Funds raised will benefit the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation in an effort to increase public awareness of preterm, low-birth-weight baby deliveries.

One of the initiatives to raise awareness and donations is to establish a nationwide dental professional walk team for WalkAmerica® 2001, which will take place on April 29. The national team is aptly named the T.A.G. Team (Teeth And Gums).

For more information, call (800) 525-WALK and mention the T.A.G. Team.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics ( She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at [email protected].