by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
Members of the National Speakers Association remind me of dental hygienists. Both are made up of intelligent, diverse, generous, interesting, loving professionals who share what they know. I was recently invited to dine with Lou Heckler, a legend in the speaking world blessed with a quick wit, engaging sense of humor, and nonstop smile.
I arrived at the restaurant bearing a welcome-to-Houston gift that only a hygienist would consider worthy of sharing with a nonpatient. Lou's smile grew when I handed him the blue gift sack with a cutout in the shape of Texas.
He unwrapped the gift with reverence and laughed immediately when he saw the contents — a hand toothbrush and sample packs of interdental cleaners. Between chuckles he said, “I'll never get to use these if my wife, Jonellen, sees them.” According to Lou, his wife's famous saying is, “My hobby is my teeth,” a line I know hygienists will all appreciate.
During dinner the conversation drifted to the fact that writers and speakers never know who they're going to touch, whose life will be changed because of a word, thought, suggestion, challenge, or idea. The power to influence lives is not exclusive to a select group of NSA communication professionals, but rather an opportunity, responsibility, and privilege shared by many.
Dental professionals typically have an audience of one, eight or 10 times a day, for a unique singular professional experience. Occasionally a parent, spouse, caregiver, or significant other will participate in the mini-communication of the dental hygiene visit. Other face-to-face interactions occur throughout the day in such places as the grocery store, school, post office, gym, church, or restaurant.
Until 150 years ago, people communicated and influenced each other's thoughts via live encounters, hand-written letters, telegraphed messages, smoke signals, horns and drums, and print media in the form of books, flyers, magazines, and newspapers. Primitive landline telephones, movies, and television enlarged and complicated the communication landscape.
Computers and mobile phones created communication platforms that now support e-mail, Web casts, blogs, instant messaging, Webinars, list serves, and texting. Emerging social media such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are communication platforms on steroids. Thousands around the world connect instantly via cyberspace to vie for more of our already overloaded attention span.
It's impossible to truly measure how we influence people, but every phrase, glance, facial expression, voice inflection, word choice, and audible tone creates a message. Today's audio, video, written, and verbal communications, pumped up by electronic media, influence people in ways that would have been straight out of science fiction 50 years ago.
People are hungry for communication and the human touch. The proliferation of cell phones and other forms of social media are proof that we want to be heard and we want to hear what others are saying. And we will never know everyone we influence.
Think about the people who have healthy teeth because of our wise recommendations. Think about our patients who have quit smoking or avoided risky life behaviors because of our gentle counsel. Think about the happy patients who no longer have sensitive teeth or a new carious lesion at every visit. There are those whose dental fears have been conquered, dry mouth relieved, or needed treatment sought because of our counsel. Think about how your kind words, gentle touch, and genuine caring brighten people's days. We are their comfort zone.
When I saw Lou at the chapter meeting the next morning, he said he loved the innovative design and gentle feel of the toothbrush. This simple gift earned its place in Lou's travel kit. Wouldn't it be fun to see his wife's response to the gift?
Dental hygienists are the real thing. We are an authentic lot. Together and on our own we do a lot of good in the world every time we interact and influence those who come to us for care.
About the Author
Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is the senior consulting editor for RDH magazine. She is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters, as well as presented seminars. She is a recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, and has practiced dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.