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National Dental Hygiene Month—live it, breathe it, love IT

Oct. 21, 2020
As this year's celebration of dental hygiene draws to a close, Tammy Filipiak, MS, RDH, explains why what you are doing now is shaping the professional you will be.

October is National Dental Hygiene Month and there are celebrations all over the dental hygiene community during this month. It is a time to celebrate and recognize the work of dental hygienists.

  • We celebrate the many roles of dental hygienists, which according to the American Dental Hygienists Association includes: clinician, corporate, public health, researcher, educator, administrator, and entrepreneur.
  • We celebrate dental hygienists and the rigor they endure as they complete an accredited educational program, which then qualifies them for licensure and practice.
  • We celebrate dental hygienists and the credentials we achieve, which include: RDH (registered dental hygienist) and LDH (licensed dental hygienist).
  • We celebrate dental hygienists and all educational degrees achieved as professional careers are expanded into areas where the value of our knowledge is continuing to be recognized.
  • We celebrate dental hygienists for the impact they make with individual patients as well as communities and environments in which they live, serve, and work.

These 31 days each year are a time when we can creatively share information with the public about what we do, who we are, and our educational backgrounds. Think of the impact that could be made if every dental hygienist shared this kind of information within their social network during this time. If individual dental hygienists helped the public gain more awareness about the importance of oral health and the important role that dental hygienists play as their partner, what kind of movement could this create?

While we recognize October as National Dental Hygiene Month, we must also ask what responsibility we each have to promote our profession and be oral health and patient advocates the other 334 days of the year. Ask yourself what is the personal brand that you want to create as you navigate your educational experience and begin your career after dental hygiene school. What professional goals do you want to set during your journey and how will you map your plan to achieve them? 

You may at times think, how can I focus on one more thing while in dental hygiene school? No worries—we have all been there, and some days have more than others! But . . . do not lose sight of the importance to embrace opportunities that will allow you to grow and learn outside of what is expected during this time. While there are many requirements and assignments that must be completed, you are shaping the professional that you will become each day and you are the future of the profession.

Fun fact: it was as a dental hygiene student that I was inspired by colleagues after attending an American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) annual conference and set one of my most important personal and professional goals to one day become president of the ADHA. While this was a 30-year journey, it was something that I never lost sight of right up until the day of my installation in 2017. That year was particularly exciting—being the voice for all dental hygienists for twelve months of the year, advocating for dental hygienists in Washington D.C., working with colleagues to advance the profession, and building partnerships with others in the oral health arena were just a few of the highlights. Of course, there was also celebration in October! 

Maintaining a level of enthusiasm about your career and profession is also something to always keep top of mind. After all, being in the business of smiles, we should have one, right? Of course, there will be days where you experience feelings of defeat and maybe even a bit of exhaustion. There will be so many more where you experience gratitude and appreciation for the work that you do. Being part of a team requires everyone to lead from the place they are at.

Have a mindset of inclusivity and partnership, but also have expectations for what you want your professional role and work culture to look and feel like. This process is an evolution, however, the sooner you think about it, the more you can begin to grow toward the role and team that is best for you.

I’ve often said that if you don’t feel just a little bit scared when an opportunity presents itself to you, it might not be enough of a challenge! Comfort can often be the enemy of fulfillment. If you ask a dental hygienist whom you see as a mentor and inspiration how they got to where they are, they will likely tell you a story that is filled with obstacles and achievements. What keeps them on track is tenacity and grit. Most people who get the privilege to achieve and lead, those that are ahead of you in the journey, will not criticize you for where you are at in yours. This is a thought shared by Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead.

So, as you cross the days off in October and as another year of National Dental Hygiene Month comes to a close, remember that every day is another day to advocate for the important things we do and be sure to celebrate each achievement along the way with a smile. #leadon

Tammy Filipiak, MS, RDH, is the vice president of clinical development and compliance officer for Midwest Dental, a dental support organization with supported practice locations in 17 states. She is a past president of the Wisconsin Dental Hygienists’ Association and American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and has served ADHA in a variety of roles, including as a member of Standards for Clinical Dental Hygiene Practice taskforce. She also has been recognized for her leadership with numerous awards, including a presidential citation from the ADHA in recognition of her leadership and vision. She also was awarded the 2003 Butler/RDH Health Gums Healthy Life Award of Distinction, and in 2012 was recognized as one of “Six Dental Hygienists You Should Know” by Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. You can contact her at [email protected]