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Mr. RDH: Male hygienists form a community for sharing professional experiences

Jan. 10, 2017
Rafael Rondon, RDH, explains why Mr. RDH reaches out to meet needs of male dental hygienists.

Male dental hygienists meet at conferences to discuss their careers.

By Rafael Rondon, RDH, BS

The profession of dental hygiene is one that requires agility, tenacity, patience, passion, compassion, dexterity, critical thinking, and excellent communication skills—just to name a few. Although these characteristics are common among both male and female dental hygienists, the profession of dental hygiene continues to be dominated by female dental hygienists.

An industry census identifies that a small percentage of dental hygienists are males. The first male hygienist graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1965. Although male hygienists are more prominent within the dental sector, the percentage growth of male hygienists has not grown as quickly as our female colleagues. This skewed growth may be due to some of the challenges discussed below.

In my current role as regional hygiene mentor for American Dental Partners, I often reflect on my 27-year career as a dental hygienist. It is clear to me that, although male and female hygienists share similar challenges, males in this profession are faced with unique obstacles. These obstacles include:

  • Overcoming the historical female hygiene model
  • The inherent fear of being viewed as the dentist
  • The effect of traditional gender roles as they relate to additional and irrelevant job responsibilities (changing light bulbs, fixing equipment,

Perception vs. reality

Although teamwork is a critical skill regardless of the gender of the person, traditional gender roles may often plague a dental practice. A common expectation of patients is that their dental hygienist will be female. Therefore, male hygienists tend to face an unconscious patient preference. This unconscious preference may go so far as to influence a hiring manager’s decision when filling a competitive position.

Recently, I was at a dinner party when the topic of male hygienists was raised. A male guest at the party stated that he preferred a female hygienist. He continued to explain that he felt uncomfortable with a male due to the intimate contact that is necessary for appropriate care to be delivered. The discussion continued, and a second concern that was raised was that males have larger hands and therefore are unable to effectively perform their responsibilities.

These perceptions are, of course, inaccurate; in reality, a male hygienist is just as capable of performing the necessary procedures a female hygienist would do. However, without accurate information, a person’s perception often becomes their only reality.

Building a community

Due to my own experiences, I have a desire to develop a better way for male dental hygienists to communicate and be part of the profession. Throughout my career, I have often felt underrepresented as a male hygienist. At times, even I have intentionally limited my voice to respect those of my female colleagues. Though this may appear gallant, I realize that I may have done a disservice to the males within our profession, as a significant portion of hygienists was not being acknowledged for the challenges that they face.

My mission is to create a platform for male hygienists around the world to be able to network, discuss challenges and successes, and influence factors that affect men as dental hygienists.

I have created Mr. RDH to serve as this platform to empower all male hygienists to grow both personally and professionally. With this community, we will be able to strengthen our industry and continue to humanize oral health care. Mr. RDH will also create a platform that allows male hygienists to learn from the experiences of others and demonstrate their value within the group, and within the dental care community. In addition, this community will capitalize on the contributions made by our profession, and illustrate the clinical and administrative attributes of male hygienists.

Mr. RDH is not intended to exclude women. In fact, most of the industry leaders are female, so it is important that we partner with our female colleagues to identify areas of improvement and to solve the unique challenges that exist.

Mr. RDH is intended to serve as an advocate on both a local and national level. This community will play a great role in changing the public’s perception by using facts and shared experiences and accomplishments of its members. Furthermore, Mr. RDH will partner with other entities to ensure full participation of men in the hygiene profession and its organizations.

Looking towards the future

The next steps are to continue to bring awareness to Mr. RDH so that other male dental hygienists may learn about this opportunity, and encourage more male students into the dental hygiene profession. As complications in the accessibility of care continue to plague our nation, the more individuals (male or female) that join our profession will help strengthen our voice and elevate the dental hygiene industry while meeting the needs of the public.

If you are, or know of, a male hygienist or potential dental hygiene student please direct them to my Facebook group, Mr. RDH, or they can reach me directly at [email protected]. If you are a male hygienist or student, please join us in Chicago August 10th -12th in RDH UnderOneRoof conference. Members of Mr. RDH will also be at the ADHA on June 14-19.

Rafael Rondon, RDH, BS, has have been working in the dental field for over 27 years. He spent the early part of his career working in a hospital setting and private practice. For the past 17 years, he has worked with dental group practices.

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