Happy or harried dental hygienist?

June 26, 2009
Which one is you? Four lessons for coping with the challenges of being a dental hygienist.

by Keverly Sugden RDH, BASDH

Dental hygiene is an awesome profession. We are extremely fortunate to be in a field that constantly changes and challenges us, and that offers good working conditions and a great income. All hygienists learn valuable lessons as we go along, and the longer we practice the more insights we gain. We can all make the choice to be happy or harried. I have worked in this profession for more than 20 years in a variety of different practices, and these are my favorite four lessons.

NUMBER ONE: Lighten up!

Dental hygienists must strive to keep a sense of humor. Our sanity absolutely depends on it. Our profession demands a tight schedule and flexibility. Harried hygienists are forced to be sweet and accommodating to even the most difficult patients and dentists. Happy hygienists learn to laugh at all the office craziness in order to relax and maintain composure. We spend our days waiting on the dentist for a patient examination, and calming anxious patients.

The next time you want to scream at the dentist or your patient, think of something humorous and the stress will melt away. The next time you are patiently waiting for yet another dental exam, remember that funny movie or book you enjoyed. Have fun with your coworkers, lighten up, and your life will be much easier. Remember, a happy hygienist is a healthy hygienist.

NUMBER TWO: Fuel up!

Dentistry is a very physically demanding profession. Dental hygienists sit in one position and often do not drink enough water. Remember your dental instructor's constant reminders to sit up straight and watch your position and posture? These sage teachers were well aware of the dangers of poor posture and improper positioning. Hygienists can easily get into bad postural habits as dental students that will carry into practice and cause pain and muscle imbalances.

Take time to stretch and strengthen your muscles with Pilates and yoga to increase your career longevity. A fun way to keep fit is to join a weekly dance-based exercise class to keep your mind and body supple.

A great book by Juli Kagan, RDH, called Mind Your Body: Pilates for the Seated Professional is available at www.mindyourbodybook.com. Juli has created a very easy visual and written guide for dental professionals that includes a detailed exercise and flexibility program. Happy hygienists make it a point to exercise daily and keep hydrated. These measures will help relieve the stresses of the day and keep your mind and body fit. Pain-free hygienists are happy hygienists.

NUMBER THREE: Do your best work

A truly amazing thing occurs when you're totally connected to your patients and work. Patients know when you're in tune to their needs and truly interested in their total health. Dental hygienists who care and are present and listening will always have satisfied and repeat customers. These repeat customers will refer other people, and this will make your employer happy and help ensure your job.

We all want satisfying careers. True happiness comes from within and can only be manifested when helping others. Take time to smell the roses, relax, take deep breaths, and then you can positively connect with your patients. Remember the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But also remember the platinum rule — treat others the way they want to be treated. Read more about the platinum rule at www.platinumrule.com. Remember that happy hygienists are connected hygienists.

NUMBER FOUR: Flex your mind

Dental hygienists have so much new information to offer patients. Those who stay abreast of new techniques and products will enjoy daily practice and impress their patients. Hygienists who can successfully implement new technologies and products into the office can boost production and wow their bosses. Boredom is often the result of complacency. Continual learning is the key to a satisfying career. Many dental Web sites offer continuing education on dental topics and information on new products. Dental publications such as www.rdhmag.com and other PennWell publications will keep you abreast on new technologies, products, and ideas.

RDH Under One Roof in Las Vegas July 29-31 will offer many fun learning and networking opportunities. The time you invest in learning will translate to a happy and productive career.

Challenge yourself beyond your usual routine by adding something that you learned in a CE class or an article. There are new remineralization ingredients such as NovaMin that will boost the effects of fluoride, reduce sensitivity, and remineralize enamel. NovaMin is available in many products such as Omni/3m SootheRX, and Dentsply NuPro prophy paste. NovaMin technologies also manufacture an excellent tooth remineralizing toothpaste called Oravive. Look it up at www.NovaMin.com.

Content hygienists will combine mind, body, and soul to make the best career possible. The choice is yours to be a happy or harried hygienist. I'm sure you can add many of your own lessons to this list. But remember to have fun and take care of yourself and you will be able to take care of others. Good luck in your dental career and life.

Keverly Sugden RDH, BASDH, is an author, speaker and practicing dental hygienist. She is an adjunct faculty member. She has published articles on group practice management and MI dentistry. Keverly is a member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and works with local legislators on access to care for children. She has written a training program for large group dental practices and has organized corporately sponsored continuing education courses for dental hygienists. Keverly can be contacted at [email protected].