Career Corner: From Haiti to paying it forward

Sept. 10, 2013
RDH eVillage interviews dental hygienists who are passionate about their careers in Career Corner. These profiles are crafted to inspire you to reach your full potential.

Jean Paul Laurent, on his Facebook profile.

RDH eVillage interviews dental hygienists who are passionate about their careers in Career Corner. These profiles are crafted to inspire you to reach your full potential.

Jean Paul Laurent is a dental hygienist based in New York and New Jersey. His ultimate goal is to provide oral hygiene care to the tri-state areas and to underdeveloped countries around the world.

A native of Haiti, Jean Paul came to the United States in 2004 with a suitcase and a dream. He was determined to master the English language, and he accomplished this in one year. He also earned an associate’s degree in math and sciences from Rockland Community College in 2008. He transferred to New York University College of Dentistry to pursue a bachelor’s in dental hygiene. Upon completion of that degree in 2011, Jean Paul started to build a great professional foundation for himself. This is where he truly found his passion for dental hygiene and helping people. He received many outstanding student service awards from Rockland Community College and won the prestigious Professionalism Award at NYU in 2011.

During the past four years, he has selflessly provided his time and expertise to assist those who are less fortunate. Aside from his dedication to dentistry and helping those in underserved countries, Jean Paul is also active in various nonprofit organizations including HIV Walk, Live United Walk, Breast Cancer Walk and Oral Cancer Walk.


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During his studies, Jean Paul also had diverse outreach experiences. He was part of NYU-Global Student Outreach Program in Hudson, N.Y., and Grenada where pediatric care was provided to children through education and prevention methods. He believes that true oral hygiene is achieved through “prevention” not “reaction.” Being proactive can minimize the need for reaction later on.

He defines “prevention” as the management of those factors that lead to disease, thereby preventing its occurrence. His ultimate goal was to launch an oral educational campaign around the world, specifically targeted toward the at-risk and underserved children in poor countries. This campaign was designed to promote fundamental improvements in the dental health status of children living in those communities. Jean Paul began this project by launching his non-profit organization in March 2011 called “Unspoken smiles Foundation” a year after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

RDH eVillage: What is your success secret?

Laurent: Be true to yourself and trust your ideas. Because working hard will never make you successful, but ideas will.

RDH eVillage: What strengths or qualities have helped you excel?

Laurent: As a young man, I developed three major qualities that I believed has and continue to help me reach my goal in life. They are persistence, hard work, and integrity.

RDH eVillage: What’s the biggest issue hygienists face today?

Laurent: First, I believe the dental hygiene profession in my opinion is suffering from an identity crisis issue. Too many dental hygienists want to have way too many titles other than what they currently have, ranging from titles such as master clinical therapists, periodontal therapist, to oral care specialist, therapist this, therapist that … to name a few. We see a bunch of young, intelligent young people being wasted in the profession just because they limit themselves to just doing prophys, or selling treatments; they are not involved in their RDH chapters or communities.

That’s why dentists are trying to limit the profession or downgrade it by telling us what our purpose as hygienists should be, and some even allow dental assistants to do prophylaxis and place sealants, which are within our scope of practice. We need leaders in the profession, great researchers, etc. We need to inspire young people to want to become dental hygienists just like they want to become lawyers, doctors, nurses; until then, we are not doing enough.

Second, when I first decided to enter the dental hygiene profession, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I hadn’t grown up wanting to be a dental hygienist, nor did I give it much thought beforehand. In fact, this profession does not exist in my native country of Haiti. But one of the challenges was to be in a female dominated profession, which I found out when I got in the program. When I truly understood the profession and what it stands for, I immediately fell in love with it. But is being a male hygienist a good thing or a waste of career? Based on my numerous works in the community and random surveys conducted in dental offices. I was able to come up with these myths.

  • The idea of dental hygiene being only a “woman’s profession.” The number of men in dental hygiene is steadily increasing, and that’s a good thing. There’s plenty of room under the dental hygiene umbrella for both men and women. Aside from variables such as flexibility of schedule, excellent pay, the scientific and methodical approach to public health is also what I would call “man-friendly.” And make the profession very rewarding for men.
  • What drew me to dental hygiene, not as a man but as a human, was the interaction with people and the reward of helping others change or improve something about their life. However, like everything else in life, there definitely down side to it. Here’s a random list of comments by some of my dentist colleagues:
  1. With me being the only male in an office of 11 females (including one female dentist), it would be “too confusing to many patients to employ a male hygienist.”
  2. In our society, “I think male hygienists are more accepting of the authority of the dentist, get along better in general with the staff, and don't have as much ‘attitude’ as female hygienists do. Many female hygienists, quite frankly, are drama queens.”
  3. In our society “most patients still expect a female hygienist, so why rock the boat?”
  • 65% of dentists said that they would hire a male hygienist if he were the most qualified candidate for the job, and 24% admitted they flat-out wouldn’t hire a man. On the other hand, 11% said their dental practices currently employ a male hygienist. "Public expectation dictates a female. I’d rather not be a trendsetter," said one dentist. But another said, “While I was initially skeptical, the male hygienist I’ve worked with is excellent and very well liked by my patients."
  • Males are actually ideally suited to both the pressures and excitement of dental hygiene. Men also have a very different perspective than women on a lot of things, and it’s a good thing having them in the profession. I’ve personally done many dental outreaches by myself. If the nurses can be independent, why can’t hygienists be as well? When I did my first international dental outreach in Haiti, I did not need any dentist with me because there are so many things within are scope of practice we can do ourselves; in fact, most dentists use our preventive approach when doing outreaches for large groups. I hope this article will help some skeptical men out there to not be afraid of joining our profession.

RDH eVillage: What is the best business/career advice you have ever received?

Laurent: I believe the best advice I’ve received was to never make profits as the primary goal of a business.

RDH eVillage: How and or when did you get the entrepreneur itch?

Laurent: I’ve always had an eye for entrepreneurs; I even attended multiple seminars of great pioneers in the field. But really got the itch when I got the sense that it would be very hard to make it as a male hygienist. I knew from the get go I would need to be different, unique type of hygienist.

RDH eVillage: In service to the profession, please tell us about your products and or services.

Laurent: I have a not-for-profit organization in progress now, which means we provide dental education and preventive services free of charge for children in underserved communities. Henry Schein and other private local dentists in the tri-state areas donate most of the products.

RDH eVillage: What are your best life/work balance tips?

Laurent: My best life/work balance tips to everyone out there is to learn how to keep emotions and personal life/opinion away from business and work. It will save you lots of headaches and make you more appealing to others not just as friends but also as business partners.

RDH eVillage: What is one thing most people do not know about you?

Laurent: I think most people don’t know, and won’t believe, that I am a ballroom dancer until they see pictures or videos of me with my trouser and shiny tight shirts.

RDH eVillage: What do you do to relax and feel rejuvenated?

Laurent: My favorite way of blowing off steam and enjoying myself is by dancing. I have been ballroom dancing for most of my adult life, and competed in many collegiate competitions throughout the northeast region and received bronze medalist at the USA Dance Nationals 2011 in Baltimore.

RDH eVillage: Do you have a favorite quote/book and or movie?

Laurent: My favorite quote is by Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

I think it’s a very powerful quote for those who want to be different and not wait for others to do something not just in their lives but also making a difference in the life of others.

RDH eVillage: How do you define success?

Laurent: My definition of success is to make it an every day goal. What do I mean by that? Most people would define success as having a nice car, house, and lots of money, or be a celebrity or an athlete. However, in my book, success is much more simpler than that. I define success as a result of a goal. It could range from a daily, weekly, monthly to a yearly goal. For instance, before I started hygiene I had a goal; now that I became a dental hygienist, that’s success to me.