Th 157453


Sept. 1, 2004
Spark interest in dental hygiene — light a career's fire.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

Click here to enlarge image

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing." These opening lyrics from the tune Pass It On was sung by many a Girl Scout around the campfire...

... This opening phrase has great meaning because every glowing fire has to begin as a spark. The verse holds promise, too, that meager beginnings can evolve into substantial happenings. Much as a fire is sparked to ignite, mentoring others begins with a glimmer and encourages those in the dental profession to shine.

Thinking back, remember what sparked the selection of dentistry as your chosen profession. For me, thoughts of hygiene came sometime after the most agonizing pain one could experience from the first molar. Drudgingly pulling the phone book off the shelf in search of a painless dental facility, my tender face and tooth rhythmically throbbed as I selected the dentist. In those days, avoiding the dental office (at all cost) was a goal prompted by fear. Once in the office, sitting in the reception area poised for pain, I vowed that when this visit was completed, I would become the best dental patient ever. I hoped that by going to the dentist regularly I would avoid future sleepless nights wrought with excruciating pain.

Watching the little fish swimming carefree in their tank in the reception area, and perusing expired issues of Time magazine, I did experience a few moments of tranquility. As the pulse rate returned to resting, and the lungs emptied with a sigh, it happened ... the dreadful door opened! Worse yet, my entire name came spewing out of the dental professional's mouth. Looking helplessly around for someone else with the same name that would somehow take my place as a stand-in, the fight-or-flight response kicked in, and the pulse rate quickened, followed by the chill from a cold sweat. However, the raw pain was reason enough to follow her into the treatment room. An X-ray was taken and the assistant delivered the news ... a root canal was in order. Not just an ordinary root canal, but one in which calcified accessory canals (four in all) needed silver points. Gripped with panic, I imagined my roots being painfully extracted one by one.

Then something happened. The dental assistant smiled, scooted near, and assured me my fears were unfounded. She went on to explain in dental detail that the tooth (and I) would survive. Suddenly, my pain lessened and I began to look upon her anew. Thinking to myself, "I could do what she is doing," a plan was sparked. After enduring the three-visit experience and gaining a new appreciation for the profession, I promptly enrolled in an accredited dental assisting program.

How we enter the dental field and enroll others to do the same is an interesting topic. When asked what we do for a living, we may find ourselves reluctant to answer because of objectionable past experiences. We may simply tell others that we improve smiles. More often than not, they will wrinkle their faces and respond, "How do you work in people's mouths all day, doing the same thing over and over?" or "Doesn't that gross you out?"

Truly, it is the variety that appeals to me because each case is individualized. Moreover, hygienists are an interesting breed because we gain satisfaction from removing heavy calculus ledges. This blasting away of bacterial bioburden is needed to bring the patient's mouth into a healthy state, but there is fulfillment in seeing tooth structure being uncovered. When the oral tissues are brought into a healthy balance, we gain personal fulfillment by being a key influence in successfully swaying the patient's overall condition back to health. Frankly, we change lives.

Consult a mentor when your own hygiene career needs a little supercharging. Finding a mentor may be necessary for self-development when you reach a stagnant point in your career or wish to substantially change direction. Perhaps you have always longed to enter the public health arena but to this point have been doing strictly private-practice, clinical hygiene. A mentor, familiar with public health hygiene, would assist in a smooth transition toward attaining this objective.

When choosing a hygiene mentor, find a coach who can identify individual needs and encourage active sharing. Possibly, to reach a new level, you may need to search out more than one mentor. Furthermore, do not restrict mentors to strictly the dental field if the growth requires branching to other components of our profession. Mentors are an excellent means to venture into new opportunities with guidance.

After attending a motivational seminar suggesting the benefits of combining with a mentor, my mission was to quickly find a supportive adviser. When I approached my future mentor and proposed the concept to her, she responded, "What do I have to do?" The important part, once we had talked further, was that she understood my direction from the beginning, because it was a path that she had already traveled. In my case, my mentor kindly loaned me text references and gave oodles of advice along with an understanding ear during the coaching process.

Be willing to take constructive criticism if stretching and growth are high priorities, because it is challenging. Mentors can be sought from various sources. Local hygiene components, past or present classmates, dental hygiene Web sites, study clubs, hygiene panels, and referrals from other hygienists can all be starting points in locating desirable mentors.

Reignite a smoldering career by seeking an encouraging supporter. Updating clinical skills will become a personally rewarding experience as you continue to blaze the hygiene trail. Introducing others to the dental hygiene field through outreach activities recalls fond memories of why we ourselves entered the hygiene profession. When you identify an area in your career that may need sparking, find a mentor to kindle the flame of your renewed desire to jump back into the hygiene fire.

Spread hygiene like wildfire

Being mentor-minded really is about sharing what we do. There are unique opportunities to give of ourselves all the time. Embrace these opportunities. Volunteer to share what the profession is about on career day at your local high school.

When preparing materials, source the ADHA Web site for printable descriptions of how hygienists work. This is a valuable resource for kindling materials that are appropriate for distribution. Would-be hygienists are longing to discover what the future of dentistry may have in store for them. Being in the presence of a dental hygienist who is willing to share could be an occupational influencer.

At career fairs, you can spark interest in the dental field by being enthusiastic and open for questioning. Teens are exploring career choices and dental hygiene may have never even crossed their minds as an occupation. Speak with the school counselor and offer to be a dental hygiene liaison. Students may approach the counselor with thoughts of dental hygiene and can have the chance to speak first-hand with a hard-working hygienist.

Stir the coals through job shadowing

Remember the thrill of receiving confirmation of acceptance into a dental hygiene program? After sitting patiently on a waiting list in some cases, and completing prerequisite course work, the first day of school was highly anticipated. For some, like me, prior work as a dental assistant and knowing what the hygiene profession entailed made the straightforward transition from assisting to hygiene more relaxing. Others in the class were perhaps misinformed of the entry requirements and decided to drop out of the program once they learned they would have to trim their beautiful fingernails to a short, nonpolished state.

Hygiene programs have grown wise to this regrettable situation and many now require the applicant to perform on-the-job observation hours. Job shadowing is a time when interested individuals watch a dental hygienist at work and learn hands-on about the profession in the real dental environment. Watching a hygienist in action prior to admission into the hygiene program helps "weed out" disinterested or deluded applicants.

This over-the-shoulder approach gives the candidate a nonthreatening experience and an opportunity to ask questions about the dental field and about patient care that may differ from what course books present. Regard it as a privilege to be asked to be shadowed so you can promote hygiene to future hygienists.

Consider this scenario ... an existing patient from your dental office shows the glimmer of aspiring to become a dental hygienist. Dental hygiene candidates generally possess a nice degree of home-care compliance (they value the importance), smile sincerely, and can build relationships. It is gratifying when the patient takes you up on the observation offer, observes hygiene in practice through job shadowing, and then investigates the possibility of completing a degree in dental hygiene. If the office utilizes the CAESY educational system, there is a description of a dental hygienist under the hygiene title that would be appropriate to view at this time. Play this link for the patient so they can begin to identify with the hygiene basics and further ignite their curiosity. Remember, passing the hygiene torch through this unique selection process sparks growth in the profession.

Karen Kaiser, RDH, graduated from St. Louis' Forest Park dental hygiene program in 1994 and currently practices at the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill. She has written several articles for RDH and other publications, sits on dental hygiene panels, and presents seminars. She can be contacted at hygiene [email protected].