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The unconventional path of a dental hygienist

Aug. 12, 2020
While many dental hygienists take the path of clinical hygiene in private dental practices after graduation, the profession offers many other opportunities for those looking for something different.

Each dental hygienist follows a different path when it comes to their dental hygiene career. For some, it may include education and academics. For others, it may be public health. For some, the path may include public speaking, and for many hygienists, their path is in private practice. But for some hygienists, their path may include all of the above.

Graduation: Taking on the world

Many of us remember graduating from a rigorous dental hygiene program and being so eager to begin practicing dental hygiene that the thought of how our careers might evolve never crossed our minds. When we are new graduates, we never thought that we would get burned-out doing something we loved so much. We did not think about the physical toll our beloved profession might take on us. We were just ready to get started with our amazing profession. We were ready to treat and educate our patients. I know that is how I felt after completing my dental hygiene program. I was ready to take on the world.

Burnout: Itching for a change

After seven years of working in a family practice, I began to feel that “itch” of wanting to evolve both professionally and personally. I loved my patients so much; most of them felt like family. But the everyday cycle was becoming something I came to dread.  I needed a change, but to what? I love dental hygiene and I love educating on the importance of oral health as it relates to overall health.

Prior to beginning my dental hygiene journey, I volunteered at our local health department’s dental clinic for a year. It was a great opportunity for me. Not only did I discover that dental hygiene was my passion, but so was public health. I love everything about public health. When I started to feel that “itch,” it just so happened that the Virginia Department of Health was looking for a dental hygienist to work their school-based sealant program in my city. The timing was perfect.

Public health: Trying new things

So, I began my public health journey again, and it was great. I took a newly formed program and grew it exponentially. I used my creativity to branch out and come up with new ways to reach more people to provide oral health education. I learned more about my community and resources available to help connect people with the services they needed. I created a dental program with one of our local housing sites. I worked with our refugee population to provide dental services and education. It was not always easy, and I was not always well received, but I kept showing up. Eventually, I came to be affectionately known as “the dental girl,” which is a term I loved and earned.

I was not just educating the public, but I was also fortunate enough to work with medical providers and offer training on fluoride varnish application by medical providers. In one summer, I was a part of a grant that provided training on fluoride varnish applications to more than 200 medical providers. It was the biggest medical/dental integration project in our state and led to a policy change in Virginia.

While I was working my state job, I began teaching dental hygiene students in the clinic setting one night a week. I also speak to the students during their public health class each fall semester, and I often have students join me for the annual Refugee Health Fair held by a collaborative of community partners. It is so exciting to see the students experience public health projects and serving their community.

The journey continues: Outreach

After three years of working for the state, I was offered a job by a federally qualified health center to be their outreach coordinator. It is my job to begin their new outreach program. We know that we have to offer our dental services outside the brick-and-mortar practice to reach more people. We are planning to serve people of all ages with our new outreach program.

During my time in public health, I have had the opportunity to meet with legislators and lobby/advocate for various causes. I am active in my local dental hygiene association, and I recently accepted the vice president role for the American Mobile & Teledentistry Alliance. I have learned in this journey that I like public speaking and I love sharing my journey with others. I never could have imagined that I would be doing what I am doing today with my career.

I have been a hygienist for 11 years now, and when I look back, I see that I have touched on so many aspects of the profession. I have learned a lot about myself in the process. I have connected with many hygienists across the United States, who have been amazing mentors and pioneers of our profession. I read various professional magazines and I study them from front to back to get ideas on how I can do my job better and grow professionally.  I ask a lot of questions and put myself out there as much as I can.

It is my hope that hygienists who do not find happiness in the operatory will read my story and see that our profession has so much to offer.  It takes patience and requires creativity, but the opportunities are endless. The future holds so much excitement for us as dental hygienists, and I would love to connect with you and help you on your journey in any way that I can.

Brooke Crouch, RDH is an outreach coordinator for a not-for-profit, community-based health-care center in Virginia. With a personal mission of increasing access to care for all patients, she envisions dentistry expanding from the typical brick-and-mortar setting to better serve communities. Brooke’s expertise includes clinical practice in the remote supervision model, advocating, consulting, and building mobile dentistry programs. For more information, email her at [email protected] or [email protected]. You can also connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
About the Author

Brooke Crouch, RDH

Brooke Crouch, RDH, is a remote supervision dental hygienist, outreach coordinator, advocate, educator, oral health champion, consultant, and volunteer. She has successfully advocated for a dental policy change to Medicaid in Virginia, and for a law change allowing medical assistants to apply fluoride varnish to children. Crouch is vice president of the American Mobile Dentistry Alliance and chairs and sits on several clinical advisory, oral health action, and community-based boards and committees. Contact her at [email protected].

Updated August 26, 2020