By Dianne Chandler
My paycheck is just as important to me as it is to everyone else. It provides me with a car, a place to live, and sometimes too much food to eat. But a paycheck can't be all there is. There needs to be some love or some satisfaction, and, to me, that is harder to get than a paycheck. After practicing hygiene for 18 years, I have come to the conclusion that I need my patients to improve in their oral hygiene because of my efforts. This is what is hard to come by, but that is where the satisfaction is. So how do we get it? Here are my thoughts on the subject.
Basically, I think there are two types of patients — those who value their teeth and those who don't. We have all met the latter, those people who set their own recall time frame, never ever floss, and think we are all just making up false stories about losing their teeth. We watch them come back in 10 years because, now, their teeth are loose, the tooth doesn't even have a filling in it, and they still don't have a clue about why this has happened to them.
There is no success story here. Even after the necessary extractions, they are still not going to listen or change because it's not worth it to them. Their mother and their grandmother both had dentures at age 45 and nothing you can do is going to convince them that they don't have to go down that same path. Sound familiar?
This just happened to me last week. I have been seeing periodontal disease progress in this patient for about seven years, and I simply could not get him to agree to scaling and root planing or to be evaluated by a periodontist. No matter what I said, the answer was still the same. I did my best with hygiene instructions, dental aids, and whatever else I could think of.
One day, out of the blue, he decides to go to a periodontist to get a periodontal evaluation. He comes back to me and tells me about the new way they taught him to brush his teeth.
"You turn the brush up into the gums," he tells me. "I never knew that before." Now if that doesn't want to make you take your hat and walk into the sunset and never return, nothing will. Too many of this type of patients can really do a number on your self-image and your job satisfaction.
Then, there are the patients who value their teeth, want to do better, and will try harder because of our instructions. This is where the job satisfaction is.
But job satisfaction is also hard to achieve simply because so many patients are on a roller coaster ride in their own lives. They experience normal stress every day from jobs, spouses, and children, and we add the additional stress of fighting gum disease. At one appointment, they are somewhat improved, but, at the very next appointment, they are back to the increased inflammation and the increased pocket depths.
We see these patients on a regular basis. This is where we can make a difference, but it is not easy.
A new patient recently told me, "Thank you. You are the only hygienist who ever said anything good about my mouth."
The comment made me wonder if that is the reason I am not getting enough satisfaction out of my job. Maybe I am focusing too much on the inflamed areas and not enough on the areas of healthy tissue. I need to be happier about my patients' successes rather than disappointed because they still have a lot of bleeding on the distal of #31.
Maybe my job satisfaction is right here, and I am not seeing it. I am now, after all of these years, refocusing my priorities. I am going to highly praise the successful areas and just mention the areas that need more work, rather than dwell on them. I find that patients will only remember one or two areas upon which to focus before their next visit, so I will only mention one or two areas.
When my long-time patients are not doing well, I am going to ask them if they have had a very busy or eventful six months. And, based on what they tell me, I will try to be a part of the solution. For instance, if they are going through a very difficult time for whatever reason, I will encourage them to come in more frequently for cleanings during this period of time. That way they can avoid creating and adding another problem in their lives. I will ask to be a part of the solution, if they will allow me to. I think that just asking shows support, whether they allow me to help or not.
My life has its ups and downs, so how can I not expect the same thing in the lives of my patients. If I just suggest something as simple as rinsing more frequently with an antibacterial rinse, or brushing with a fluoride gel rather than regular OTC toothpaste, I am helping. This type of an approach just makes more sense to me. To get job satisfaction, you simply have to get involved. Even if you do, there is no guarantee that you will have any amount of success, but, when it comes, it is well worth it. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can tell you that when I make a difference in just one patient because I tried just a little harder, I have found what I am looking for.
Diane Chandler, RDH, has practiced dental hygiene in the same dental office for 18 years. Once a year during dental awareness month, she provides a dental information program to her community through their public access cable network. She can be contacted at [email protected].