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The importance of communitty and connection in dental hygiene cannot be stressed enough.

RDH Community Connection: How dental hygienists build strength through community

May 18, 2024
Dental hygiene can be a lonely profession. That's why connecting with others will make you feel like you aren't alone. There are many ways to do this.

The challenges of our work often overshadow the impact we have on our patients. This is why community is crucial. Even though dental hygiene can be a rewarding career, it can also be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. Many dental hygienists struggle with work-related pain, high levels of stress, and burnout.

I struggled with pain, stress, and burnout throughout the first half of my career. Within one year of graduation, I experienced pain. It started slowly but progressed until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Not only was I practicing in pain, I also struggled with low energy, focus, and drive. I felt tired, stuck, and alone. That’s when I learned that 97% of dental professionals experience pain during their careers. I began to claw my way out of the dark hole I was in.

My pain became my purpose

I was determined to understand and heal my pain, and I was motivated to help other dental professionals do the same. My pain became my purpose and helping dental professionals my mission. I enrolled in my first yoga training in 2011, in advanced yoga training in 2013, and became a certified yoga therapist in 2016. I wrote my thesis paper on how yoga can be therapeutic for seated professionals. I specialized in posture, ergonomics, and pain management, and created an online yoga program for dental hygienists in 2018.

My business has morphed through the years, but my vision has always been clear. In 2021, I created The Aligned Hygienist—an ergonomics, yoga therapy, and wellness company—to offer more than just programs and solutions for dental professionals: it’s designed to help dental professionals build community.

My goal is to bring dental professionals together to connect, learn, and empower each other. In 2022, I opened HygieneWell, a group coaching program that focuses on posture, ergonomics, and therapeutic yoga. This program incorporates self-study training and yoga classes with coaching calls and a group chat to help build community with other hygienists.

Finding communities to support your evolution

Surrounding yourself with a community of hygienists gives you the opportunity to learn, problem-solve, and discover new products and solutions. Dental friends can help celebrate wins, lift you when you’re down, and remind you that you’re not alone. One of the best ways to grow in your career, while supporting your well-being, is to network and build community in the industry.

As I reflect on my journey, the only reason I’ve been able to build a community is because of the community that surrounds me. I’m excited to expand my network this year as an RDH Community Connections member, where I’ll learn, grow, and collaborate with hygienists who are on a mission to elevate our industry.

Depending on your goals, there are many ways to network and build community. Some hygienists connect on Facebook groups for dental hygienists. This can be a great way to ask questions, receive support, and poll a community of hygienists.

Some in-person options for building community are attending local events such as a state association meeting or a local study club. Attending conferences specifically for dental hygienists, such as RDH Under One Roof, is a great way to meet like-minded colleagues, learn and grow in your career, receive continuing education, and share experiences.

Anne Duffy, dental hygienist and founder of a community called Dental Entrepreneur Women (DeW), once said, “The answer is in the ladies' room.” She created DeW to help raise and empower all women in dentistry with community, collaboration, and support. While DeW may not be a fit for everyone, other private communities support hygienists and are worth considering.

The answer is in the hygiene room

Dental hygienists hold the power to have a massive impact on our patients, communities, and beyond. Building on Anne Duffy’s quote, we could say, “The answer is in the hygiene room.” The power of a community with like-minded hygienists extends far beyond shared experiences—it becomes a catalyst for learning, a source of inspiration, and a reminder that together is the only way we’ll create positive change for our patients, industry, and health care at large.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the April/May 2024 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

Caitlin Parsons, RDH, C-IAYT, CEAS, RYT500, is a practicing dental hygienist, yoga therapist, ergonomics expert, and the founder of The Aligned Hygienist. She is a writer, public speaker, consultant, podcast host, and content creator. Caitlin specializes in ergonomics, yoga therapy, pain prevention, stress management, and burnout for dental professionals, teams, and organizations, and can be reached at [email protected].