Rafael Rondon 16x9

My journey to Mr. RDH

Dec. 18, 2019
On a whim, Rafael Rondon walked into the dental hygiene building during his first year in college. The journey he went on to have is in many ways the story of the profession in the last 30 years, and where it’s headed now.

My chosen career as a hygienist has been an exciting and wonderful journey. It has been rewarding and fulfilling, and there have been many incredible changes in the direction and emphasis in patient care. Technology has added components not even considered just a few short years ago. In response, I, as a hygienist, have had to make corresponding professional changes to remain current and to provide my patients with the best dentistry has to offer.

Before entering hygiene school, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. Shortly into my first semester in college, I decided I needed some help and direction. I randomly walked into the allied health building, and the first department I walked into was dental hygiene. I started asking the nice lady behind the desk questions about the profession, questions like: What is a dental hygienist? How long is the program? What courses are needed to graduate? What is the demand for hygienists? And, very importantly, what is the starting salary? Everything the director told me sounded great.

I became very interested and began to think that maybe dental hygiene was the career for me. I asked the director what was needed to start in the program. She advised me that she only needed to see my high school transcript, since she knew that it was my first semester in the college. What she never told me was that my class had 49 women and only five men. I was not aware that the hygiene profession was like the nursing profession, a mostly female career at that time.

After completing the dental hygiene program in 1990, I was able to immediately start working at Lincoln Hospital, a place where I had worked previously as a surgical tech. Working in that environment was a great experience for me because I was able to see and treat many types of patients: poor, wealthy, healthy, and of course, some periodontally involved patients. I learned how to function in different situations with different people while continuing to provide the care each individual needed.

I worked at Lincoln Hospital for more than two years, and I found myself loving more and more what I was doing, as well as what I was doing for the patients. I enjoyed watching the change in patients when they came to see me with bleeding, malodor, and inflamed gums, and the way they looked and felt after treatment. They noticed the difference! It was satisfying and continued to validate my career decision.

After practicing with several general practices, and continually learning and developing professionally and personally through the years as a hygienist, I discovered that in this profession—or any other profession—success does not depend on your gender or background. What I learned is that it is what you do with the skills you have and the love you put into it. Success is something you can control, given the right environment, support, and needed confidence in yourself. 

I eventually found myself in a dental group practice in Florida, working at a practice that presented me with the wonderful opportunity of working as the hygiene coordinator to help develop the skills of my colleagues with the goal of together providing the best standard of patient care. After working as a hygiene coordinator for a year, I was given another opportunity to train and mentor other hygienists as the hygiene administrator in the organization. At that point, it was a full-time position that demanded time away from the chair. Years passed and I was hired by another dental organization where I continued to grow as a regional hygiene mentor. I was able to coach and mentor hundreds of hygienists in six states for the organization. Years later, I was promoted to director of operations for an affiliate of the group, where I was then able to learn the operational side of dentistry. 

It has been 29 years since I graduated with that class of two men and eight women (out of the original 54). I am now director of dental hygiene operations for Benevis Practice Management Services LLC, and married with three beautiful children. I have been very successful in the practices in which I’ve worked. I appreciate the opportunities to be able to train, coach, and inspire other hygienists in these organizations. When you put your heart into what you are doing, patients will trust you and accept your recommendations. If you believe in what you are doing, patients will see that through your eyes. It is not just offering and recommending treatment to patients; it is also educating them to want the necessary treatment for a healthy mouth. In doing so, you and your office will become successful. 

In 2015, I started Mr. RDH, and as the founder and CEO of this organization my mission is to create a platform for male hygienists around the world to be able to network, and discuss and influence factors that affect men as dental hygienists. I also want to capitalize on the contributions made by our profession and illustrate the attributes of males within the profession, whether clinically or administratively. 

If there is one thing I would like to leave as my legacy, it would be to instill a measure of confidence in all hygienists. I want hygienists to value their profession and the services they are providing. In doing so, we can provide the best possible care to our patients moving forward. From the moment I walked through the door of that campus dental clinic, my career as a hygienist has been very rewarding and continues to evolve. I’ve spent many years in the field and have been able to witness so many amazing developments in our profession. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to empower and elevate others. These experiences and the colleagues I’ve connected with have continued to form who I am today.

For all hygienists, male and female, the profession we chose can save lives, because, as we know, periodontal disease is associated with heart disease and other life-threatening problems. We can screen for oral cancer, which is considered among the deadliest cancers. We can check blood pressures and reassure anxious patients. We can soothe children and help senior citizens. It is our responsibility to discover the needs of patients and to treat and educate them so they can maintain their oral health. I believe that, by giving your patients the best standard of care, you will be giving them a chance at a longer and healthier quality of life. Keeping this in mind, you will be able to reach your goals and be successful as a dental hygienist.

Rafael Rondon, BS, RDH, has been working in the dental field for more than 29 years. He spent the early part of his dental career working in a hospital setting and private practice. For the past 19 years, he has worked with dental group practices. He is also CEO and founder of Mr. RDH, whose mission is to create a platform for male hygienists around the world to be able to network, and discuss and influence factors that affect men as dental hygienists.