Priya discovered on her temping paycheck that her work was appreciated—and rewarded.

An unexpected thank-you

Sept. 5, 2019
Priya's personal journey took her from India to Florida, where she discovered a career in dental hygiene. Here's the story of how she found a dental practice home—and colleagues who valued her.

As a little girl growing up in India, Priya watched her parents lose their teeth due to lack of education and fear of dentistry. Both were wearing full dentures by their early 50s.

Priya’s life took an abrupt turn when her husband accepted a software engineering job in south Florida. Priya was an educated woman. She had a master’s degree in biochemistry, but suddenly she was faced with moving to a new country without a work visa. Priya was forced to take a step back.

For the next eight years, Priya plunged her energies into taking care of the house and raising her two children, who were born during this work hiatus. She cooked every day and focused on her children’s needs. But her scientific mind was restless.

In her spare time, Priya studied to become a certified pharmacy technician and easily gained the proper licensure. When her work visa was granted, Priya found a job at a local pharmacy. But over the course of the next two years, she realized that counting pills day in and day out was not the answer. She wanted a way to connect with people and make a real difference.

Finding a new path

Priya thought deeply about what to do next. She wanted to have a career that provided care, and she knew she had an affection for working with older adults. After much research, she determined that dental hygiene was a path that would appreciate her prior education and allow her to achieve her newly clarified dreams. But first she had to spend time taking the prerequisite courses that she had not taken in India—courses like English and history. Thankfully, she did not have to repeat all of the chemistry, biology, and microbiology courses.

Like many other hygienists, Priya began her dental hygiene education with a full slate of family obligations. Her son was 11 months old and her daughter was 4 years old, but she was determined to complete her education. She graduated in 2014.

Honing her skills

Five years after graduating and many years wiser, Priya looked back at her clinical career. The first four years were hard. She worked in corporate practices, but the fit was just not right. The pace was fast and she was expected to conform to questionable practices like wearing the same disposable gown day after day. Priya also did a lot of temping, trying to find the ideal office to hang her hat.

Then, one year ago, Priya found a dental practice that supported an ideal life-work balance. She practiced four hours a day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. While her schedule was spread out over the week, it allowed her to combine motherhood with her dental hygiene career. Her permanent schedule left her free to work as a temp on Thursday or Friday if she wished to work those days. 

Getting a pat on the back

Last week, the temporary agency sent Priya to a new office for a four-hour assignment. A hygienist who had been in the practice for 25 years had an emergency. Priya noted that the other two hygienists working in the office had been there for years. One had worked there 28 years and the other 9. 

Priya sensed there was a real difference with this practice. At the end of her shift, she received confirmation that this office truly appreciated quality dental hygiene services that were delivered in a kind, professional manner. Interestingly, the Indian name Priya means loveable or sweet-natured. There was a small hand-written note attached to her paycheck that said: “I gave you an extra hour for being so great!” An unexpected thank-you goes a long way.

Anne Nugent Guignon, MPH, RDH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power-driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. A recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 American Dental Hygienists' Association Irene Newman Award, Guignon has practiced dental hygiene in Houston since 1971. She may be contacted at [email protected].

About the Author

Anne Nugent Guignon, MPH, RDH, CSP

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, MPH, RDH, CSP, a visionary thinker, has received numerous accolades over four decades for mentoring, research, and guiding her profession.  As an international speaker and prolific author, Anne focuses is on the oral microbiome, erosion, hypersensitivity, salivary dysfunction, ergonomics, and employee law issues. She may be contacted at [email protected].

Updated June 26, 2020