Advancements: Stay current!

April 1, 2002
Why does avoiding clinical complacency matter so much?

The Clinical Edge -- A 12-part series Part 9:

by Tammy L. Carullo, RDH, PC, PS

Why does avoiding clinical complacency matter so much? Perhaps a better question to ask is, "Shouldn't it matter even more?" As the threat of preceptorship approaches even closer, we had better stop clinging to the fantasy that all is well and make our voices heard and our positions in dentistry indispensable!

Hygiene is advancing at lightning speed, yet some hygienists are simply content to sit idly by and do little more than is required to maintain their license. At a recent continuing education seminar, the number of hygienists complaining about having to be there amazed me! In fact, one even made the remark that she "could teach the course better than this guy!" This infuriates me and should enrage hygiene professionals everywhere. My immediate internal response was, "Who do they think they are?" These are the same people who moan and groan about preceptorship, but don't feel the issue is important enough to get on board with the ADHA to help win the battle. They are classic examples of individuals who simply "drink from the well" and offer nothing in return but a major chip on their shoulders. The thing missing from their repertoire is accountability. They are quick to dish out blame for their lot in life. For anyone offended by this sarcasm spewed in the direction of ignorance, good! The time is now for serious people who have serious goals for the future advancement of the profession to speak up. We need to understand fully that the dental patient comes before any egos. Check your egos at the door, please!

The advancements in dental hygiene are more than merely clinical. They include a shift in attitude, one that exemplifies the need for true team function, making the stereotype of "prima donna" a thing of the past. Dental hygienists make a tremendous contribution to dentistry. A dental hygienist has a unique advantage when communicating information to the patient with the goal of improving case acceptance. He or she also has the ability to detect and prevent disease. Oral health care requires total team commitment. This commitment focuses on the need for highly trained, educated, and licensed professionals who hold the role of patient advocate near and dear.

Hygienists should make every concerted effort to stay current (on the clinical edge) and avoid complacency at all costs. I am quite certain that there will be an eager assistant just waiting for the opportunity for the preceptor "bug" to infiltrate your state and take your job! Life will pass you by if you do nothing. Staying current is more than just taking an occasional CE course because it's required. It's actually implementing positive change in your practice as a result of what you've learned.

Lecturers across the country, though, still observe hygienists in the audience who are busy writing Christmas cards, socializing, or rudely disrupting the learning process for others by talking through the entire program! I applaud the way a speaker recently dealt with a group of rude, bored hygienists who had started to heckle him. He very calmly ejected them from his course. Bravo! We encounter these "representatives" of dental hygiene far too often, and it's time for the rest of us to stand up and shout, "Grow up!" How can these people think they have absolutely nothing to gain from a CE course? Are they that angry at the world and the state board of dentistry for requiring them to be there? Do they really believe they know it all?

Their behavior certainly is baffling to those of us who realize that, even if the information is not "brand new and cutting edge," we still can walk away with an incredible learning experience. A true professional never stops learning. Take a giant step toward bridging the communication gap between doctors and hygienists, so that the importance of both entities for well-rounded patient care is established.

The advancements and high technology guiding dental hygiene benefit patients with the high level of oral health care now available. But it is absolutely paramount that professionals maintain their own clinical capabilities and skills to stay on the cutting edge and avoid the complacency rut.

The hit parade

What are some of the advancements in dentistry? Some amazing innovations help in not only treatment, but also in the detection and prevention of disease. A few examples below reiterate how these advances make our jobs easier, as well as improving the outcome of treatment.

Digital radiography

Benefits to patient

•There is a significant reduction in radiation for the patient. In fact, producing CDR images uses up to 90 percent less radiation than conventional film.

• Greater patient comfort.

• Clearer and easier for the patient to understand through visual demonstration of oral conditions.

Benefits to hygienist, dentist, and practice

• Increased acceptance of treatment plans.

• A money-saving investment that eliminates the costs of film, chemicals, and processing.

• Images with a higher dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio than film.

• The overall diagnostic accuracy is comparable to a perfectly exposed and developed film. In addition, CDR offers features such as zoom, contrast, and colorize, making diagnosis easier and more precise.


Benefits to patient

(Hands-down, my favorite is Biolase Technology's Waterlase™ hard and soft tissue laser.)

• Laser-energized water cuts teeth without anesthesia or discomfort.

• The Waterlase significantly improves patients' comfort in the dentist's chair: 98.5 percent of patients treated with the Waterlase system reported no discomfort during the procedure in a randomized, double-blind clinical trial conducted at the University of the Pacific.

• Because it does not cause heat or vibration in the mouth, Waterlase may ease the pain and anxiety of patients who fear the vibration and high-pitched whine of traditional drills. In contrast, this laser makes a gentle tapping noise.

Benefits to hygienist, dentist, and practice

• Waterlase uses a cool-water spray to cut teeth without generating heat. Conventional drills and lasers can overheat teeth, inducing discomfort and irreversibly damaging the soft tissue or pulp underneath.

• Water droplets become laser-energized water particles that, when directed at the tooth, rapidly remove enamel, dentin, and decay/caries.

Oral CDX

Benefits to patient

• Early detection of oral precancer and cancer.

• Painless – no topical or local anesthetic required.

Benefits to hygienist, dentist, and practice

• Easy to use.

• Increases value to patients.

• Accurate, fail-safe brush biopsy procedure.


Benefits to patient

• Identification and evaluation of oral mucosal abnormalities in those who are at increased risk for oral cancer.

• Rinse solution is pleasantly flavored.

Benefits to hygienist, dentist, and practice

(This is a new product developed by Zila Professional Pharmaceuticals.)

• After patients rinse with a 1 percent acetic mouth rinse for 60 seconds, the dental professional uses the illuminated device to examine the oral cavity. Entire procedure takes two minutes.

• Device pinpoints areas requiring further investigation with a bright, white appearance; you can collect cells from these sites for a biopsy with, for example, Oral CDX.

SureSoft intraoral X-ray film packets

Benefits to patient

• Comfort, comfort, comfort – Kodak developed a soft, resin vinyl end that eliminates the gripes that patients have about discomforts associated X-rays.

Benefits to hygienist, dentist, and practice

• Handled the same way as other film packets or X-ray processes.

• Available with Kodak's InSight intraoral film, radiation is reduced to very low levels.

• Relaxed patients equal more successful treatment

Tammy L. Carullo, RDH, PC, PS, is CEO of Practice by Design, Inc. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]