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Support from peers keeps your dental hygiene career from going stale.

A guide to staying inspired and cultivating your passion for dental hygiene

Dec. 18, 2023
No one needs to set their career into survival mode. There are ways to flourish and truly enjoy being a dental hygienist for the long haul.

I've been a practicing dental hygienist for 13 years and I love dental hygiene now more than I did when I graduated. Most hygienists cannot relate to this; in fact, many become burned out after practicing for only three to five years. I've been in the dental field for 20 years, and I’ve watched many dental hygienists practice full-time for 30 years and love it.

So, what’s the difference? The schedule demands of dental hygienists have changed dramatically during the last five years. Advances in software allow us to be more efficient in filing schedule holes, which reduces time to sharpen instruments, call back patients, place orders, stretch, and stay hydrated. When I coach dental hygienists, I've found a practical approach to improving quality of life, increasing passion chairside, and reducing the burnout and dread of working clinically. 

Want to read more from Amber?

The key to success for dental hygienists

How I fell in love with clinical hygiene again

Embrace a positive culture

I've been part of many teams as an employee, coach, and temporary hygienist, and I’ve learned that one common denominator makes or breaks a clinical environment: the culture of the practice. Clinicians often bond in the lunchroom, complaining about patients, discussing exam wait times, and focusing on what went wrong.

In an environment focused on the negative, people will always find things to complain about. Although negativity may seem like just an annoyance, it can quickly spread through an organization, resulting in increased absenteeism, high staff turnover, low morale, and decreased productivity.1 Instead, challenge yourself to compliment, support, and encourage your coworkers. Find three positive things to say per hour to your peers and/or patients. 

Set professional and personal goals

For many of us, dental hygiene school was exhausting and traumatic. It can be easy to lose ourselves during school and then navigate the transition from school to private practice. Personal development is essential to assist in career longevity and fulfillment. Personal development focuses on growth through understanding ourselves better.

I like to use the PACT technique—purposeful, actionable, continuous, trackable—for setting goals. Compared to other methods that focus on outcome, PACT goals focus on output.2 By focusing on output, some people have found that PACT allows them to track progress toward achieving a goal and creating new habits. 

For example, if your goal is to become certified in local anesthesia with PACT, you'd set a goal to study every day and create a formula that works to achieve the goal.

SMART goals are another way to assist in goal setting and are focused on the result. With a SMART goal, the result would be to become locally certified by a specific date. Goals help us create structure and self-confidence. We prove to ourselves that we can show up and prioritize our growth. Goals are not meant to cause increased stress. Instead, they can serve as a way to flourish. 

Cultivate community

There’s a missing link in many of our lives that involves our community. Our fast-paced lifestyles and the normalization of sweatpants and DoorDash have led us to become comfortable with isolation. According to PBS, about 60% of people in the United States report feeling lonely regularly.3 When I look at past generations of hygienists who are still working full-time clinically and are fulfilled in their careers, they have a network of peers that inspires them to keep going.

I met a dental hygienist out of Texas who has been a full-time RDH for more than 30 years, and she refers to herself as a “unicorn RDH." Her secret is that she never stops learning; she’s consistently looking to evolve and improve her knowledge to better serve her patients. She meets every month with her many hygiene friends and they discuss clinical case studies. I’m grateful that I have a hygiene community to support my personal and professional goals. Many times, I’ve been discouraged and felt like giving up on a goal, and a friend reminds me why I started and that I can achieve it. 

Leaving good for great

I’ve noticed that dental hygienists I’ve worked with have normalized being in survival mode. I hear, "I’ll never find my dream office," or " I’ll never find an office in my area that pays the same," or " I can't leave my patients," or "It's not that bad." To be completely honest, I've also said many of those things.

When we let fear keep us in an office or role that doesn’t allow us to grow personally or professionally, we miss the opportunity to let go of good for great. During many pivotal points in my career I had the opportunity to choose a safe yet stagnant role, or jump into an unknown and exciting new opportunity. It's always scary to jump, but it's always paid off for me. 

Staying passionate as a dental hygienist requires commitment and intentionality. The best way to do this is to surround yourself with like-minded professionals. RDH Under One Roof is a great place to start; this year it will be July 18-24 in Denver. I'd love for you to join me at the event; it's the community that changed my career.

I also want to remind you that you're never stuck. You're one phone call, one email, one event, and one social media comment away from asking someone for assistance. As #AskAmberRDH, I’m always here to support your career journey. Let's make 2024 your best year yet! 


1. Managing team negativity. Mind Tools. Accessed December 10, 2023. www.mindtools.com/aaw7kx1/managing-team-negativity

2.  How personal development can shape your career. NSLS. May 18, 2022. Accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.nsls.org/blog/how-personal-development-can-shape-your-career

3. Why Americans are lonelier and its effect on our oral health. PBS. January 8, 2023. Accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-americans-are-lonelier-and-its-effects-on-our-health

Amber Auger, MPH, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist and creator of Thrive in the OP. Additionally, she is the editorial director of the RDH Graduate newsletter, host of #AskAmberRDH, the 2019 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction recipient, and an international speaker. Amber specializes in the integration of the latest science into practical protocols for chairside implementation, and can be reached at [email protected]