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Inside Hygiene 21210

Dianne talks me down off the soapbox

If you have passed by my soapbox recently, you have probably heard me rant that I think manpower assessments for dental hygiene are out of whack. Web sites, including the government’s, keep on insisting that dental hygiene is a hot, hot occupation for job seekers to consider.

I just don’t see it. Someone made a mistake with the numbers. In the overall picture of the national economy, dental hygiene is not, uh, at the top of the currency chain. Nevertheless, we need to examine more closely the economic formulas used to crank out new hygienists from dental hygiene schools.

How do we deal with the surplus of hygienists who are working multiple jobs (in some cases, at reduced salaries or without raises for long periods)? I recently spent some time talking with Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, author of the Staff Rx column in RDH magazine, about this issue.

“If the downward trend continues and more hygienists enter the market with fewer job opportunities, the job market will continue to worsen and pay will drop even more,” Dianne said. “I get letters regularly from hygienists who haven’t received a raise in several years. They don’t want to ‘raise’ the issue because they know there are plenty of new grads out there who would love to have their jobs.”

Dianne cites government statistics about how the number of dentists per 100,000 people continues to decline, while the number of dental hygiene schools has increased 27% during the same time period.

“Dental hygiene graduates have increased by 20%, while the number of dental school graduates has fallen by 23%,” she said. She remembered when she graduated. “When I graduated from dental hygiene school in 1978, I had three different offices at which to interview. The point is I had a choice, and so did my classmates. Now there is fierce competition for fewer jobs. Adding to the problem is less attrition in the profession, meaning that established hygienists are working longer than before. I see it in my audiences with the number of white-haired hygienists still working clinically in order to survive financially.”

In addition to her column, Dianne is a speaker and consultant. I sought her perspective because I get annoyed and rant on my soapbox, while she encourages a more positive attitude.  
 
“It’s all about passion and love of the profession,” she said. “When jobs are scarce, only the best and most determined will make it. If I was just graduating and had to work in three different offices to stay busy, I’d do just that, all the while keeping my antenna tuned for any opportunity for full time work.
 
“There’s plenty of need for dental hygiene care. Hygienists who love this profession cannot lose sight of the need for what they do. And progress is being made to remove restrictions on access to care. I believe the day will come when many other avenues for hygienists will become available, through the aging population and nursing home hygiene care, school-based hygiene care, and retirement funded dental care. We have to get out of this traditional dental office mindset as the only viable option for hygienists to deliver preventive care,” she said.

The green touch, step by step

The Eco-Dentistry Association released a checklist last week that dental offices could follow by taking even baby steps to become more environmentally friendly. The California-based association has a certification program for dental offices that are striving for maximum conservation. But I would think even the simple steps can make a difference.

My colleague over at Dental Economics, Kevin Henry, spoke on environmentalism in dentistry at the Oregon Dental Association, the Greater New York Dental Meeting, and the Yankee Dental Congress.

He said of the checklist, “The Eco-Dentistry Association has really done an amazing job of bringing the green concept to the forefront in dentistry. They've been a valuable resource for me for my lectures and articles. This checklist is a great source of information for all dental practices, and it's a great way for dentists and their team members to see what steps they've already taken on the green path, and which steps they can take to further help the environment and save money.”

You can access the checklist at www.ecodentistry.org/GreenDOC,  (Site registration is required.)

Your voice about living in the best state to practice dental hygiene

How do you feel about working in your state? Both RDH eVillage and Dental Assisting Digest ranked the best states to be a dental hygienist or dental assistant, respectively, in 2009 issues. The rankings were based on a variety of factors, most related to the occupation specifically or health care in general. (To view the RDH eVillage article about dental hygienists in December 2009, click here.) The rankings, however, did not include the sentiments of dental professionals who work in those states.

So we published a survey in RDH eVillage asking for feedback from readers.

First, we asked about how encouraging you would be to an “outsider” in the profession moving to your state to work in dentistry. Sixty-two percent said, “A stranger with appropriate credentials would be welcome.” Seventy-two percent said “someone you know” would be welcome to the state. The remaining votes, of course, indicated that they did not want dental professionals from out of state relocating to their state.

We asked readers about “availability of jobs in your occupation within your state's borders.” Only 5% of the hygienists said jobs were “very plentiful.” The readers who selected this option were from (the number in parenthesis represents the total choosing the “very plentiful” option in a state): Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland (3), Missouri, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York (3), Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia (3).

Nationally though, 42% said “no jobs” were available, while 53% said a few jobs were available “here and there.”

We also asked readers to imagine that they were appointed by the governor to recruit dental professionals to relocate. We offered several factors that they would emphasize to dental professionals in other states:

• 66% would say, “My state offers terrific recreational opportunities.”

• 56% would say, “My state is incredibly scenic.”

• Hovering around 45% were, “My state's climate is very favorable,” “My state strongly supports family values,” and “My state offers terrific continuing education opportunities.”

The governor’s appointees, though, would apparently shy away from saying, “My state's economy is better off than most (29%),” or “My state has terrific dental patients who are very compliant with their home care (21%).”

The survey’s final two questions focused on whether readers believe their state is “above average” in training dental professionals (55% said yes), and if they believe in licensure by credentials (95% do).

The RDH eVillage survey generated 357 responses from dental hygienists, which is an average of seven responses per state. It’s hardly worth breaking the results down by state. But five states — California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington — were a little more involved. So we can take a closer look at interesting statistics about those states.

California
• 34% would not “welcome strangers with appropriate credentials,” which is above the national average.
• The governor’s appointees would emphasize, “My state's climate is very favorable (96%),” and “My state offers terrific recreational opportunities (92%).” Only 12% would bring up the state’s economy as a selling point.
• 77% believe California provides “above average” training for dental professionals, which is well above the national average.

Florida
• With a clear conscience, Florida easily resists the relocation of dental professionals to the Sunshine State. Sixty-two percent would not welcome “a stranger with appropriate credentials,” and only 52% would welcome a dental professional they already know. Florida clearly has a different perspective on this issue.
• If prodded as an appointee by the governor’s office, 100% of Florida dental hygienists would tout, “My state's climate is very favorable.” Yes, I wrote that sentence with a straight face. However, only 7% would tout the state’s economy. Interestingly, only 23% believe Florida “strongly supports family values,” and a mere 3% were proud of their “terrific dental patients.”
• In complete contrast to California, only 27% of Florida dental hygienists consider their training to be “above average.”

Michigan
•  This state is a little below average in welcoming strangers and familiar faces (53% in both categories) to work in dentistry.
•  Zero Michigan dental hygienists said jobs were plentiful. In fact, 81% chose the option, “There’s nothing available.”
• The key points that the governor’s appointees would focus on are, “My state offers terrific recreational opportunities,” (76%) and “My state is incredibly scenic” (52%).
• Only 48% consider the training of dental professionals to be “above average” in Michigan.

Pennsylvania
• Pennsylvania was a little above the national average in welcoming strangers (65%) and familiar peers (75%) to practice in the state.
• At the governor’s beckoning, 53% would tell out-of-state dental professionals that, “My state is incredibly scenic.”
• 59% believe Pennsylvania is “above average” in the training of dental professionals.

Washington
• 82% would welcome a familiar face to move and work in dentistry.
• Zero Washington hygienists said jobs were “very plentiful.” But the state was well below the national average of saying no jobs are available (11%).
• More than half would tell outsiders, at the governor’s request, that “My state is incredibly scenic,” “My state offers terrific continuing education opportunities,” and “My state offers terrific recreational opportunities.”
• Washington also strongly believes in the quality of care provided there, since 90% believe the training of the state’s dental professionals is “above average.”

More tools for the kids

I tend to act like a star-struck kid when I’m at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore. The artifacts and interactive exhibits are arguably the profession’s best friend in making oral health an interesting topic.

For several years, the museum has produced an online program called MouthPower. This site contains a lot of valuable and fun resources, particularly for those dental offices reaching out to their communities during National Children’s Dental Health Month. Naturally, there are some challenges in implementing the program where wireless doesn’t exist.

The insurer United Concordia Dental recently teamed up with the museum to produce a CD of the MouthPower program. Concordia is distributing the CD to 45,000 of its dental clients. But other dental offices can access it through the museum. Plus, if you’re attending the upcoming Chicago Midwinter Meeting, the museum will have copies at its booth (#135).

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