Ideas to Inspiration: Finding your 'why' about becoming a dental hygienist

Jackie Sanders, RDH, reminds us that every dental hygienist goes through a search of "why" they chose his or her profession.

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By Jackie Sanders, RDH, MBA

Each of us has something inside that made us decide “why” we wanted to be a dental hygienist. Whether it was because you were born to be a caretaker, had someone in your life that influenced your perspectives of dentistry, or because you thought it was a quick money-making career, each of you has found yourself in the dental industry. The “why” is what will drive your passion and determine your level of success and personal satisfaction.

For some, the passion started driving you immediately. For others, a personal experience stirred an emotion making you realize, “Wow! I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” We constantly hear about finding your passion, although during the early stages of a career many cannot figure out what it is. The question may linger, “Why can’t I define my passion?” This month, we will share a couple of WOW’s, where the moment was evident and individuals had their passion defined.

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Ideas to Inspiration: Answering four questions about dental hygiene careers

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Noel Kelsch shares the following story that confirms the determination she has to push forward and take care of the oral health needs of the homeless in California.

He sat on the edge of the curb, away from the crowd hugging his black trash bag like a stuffed animal. I sat down next to him trying to remember where this familiar face came from. I attempted to enter his world, to understand his story. He greeted me with words that only made sense in his mind, soiled clothing, swollen gums and stained teeth, a reflection of where he had been.

As his story unfolded I soon knew that everyone has a story to tell. I sat next to him in 5th grade and ran and played on the same playground. In high school, he was my science class lab partner who knew all the answers. He was brilliant.

College had been a treat for him and he had done very well. Then the story changed. A brain disease called schizophrenia took that all away in a matter of months. As we sat there together again knowing that we each had our own journey it became so clear to me.

I am a registered dental hygienist. Everyday people sit in my chair and they each have their own story to tell. I can end stigmas. I can accept all those stories and adapt my treatment plans to the needs of my patients. Yes, EVERYONE has a story to tell that led them to this place in time. I am blessed to be a registered dental hygienist who can impact smiles and lives. I can help change stories.

Each year, Sunstar and Pennwell (RDH magazine) recognize dental hygienists with the Award of Distinction, acknowledging the achievements of those who have found their personal passion and know why they pushed through the challenges. Recognizing these individuals provides each of us with the opportunity to connect and hear their stories, many of which will inspire the dream we have inside.

When reaching out to past recipients of the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction, Lauren Gueits was quick to provide several reasons that have confirmed her “why.” Lauren stated, “A fond memory as a hygienist is the hug I received from an older lady after helping her from her chair and holding her arm as we walked to the operatory. On a grander scale, a patient took my advice and was screened, and diagnosed with diabetes, exclaiming my recommendation saved her life! I am blessed to have touched many lives. In return, my patients gave me the true gift, knowing that every day I worked as a hygienist I made a difference. This profession gave me wings to fly allowing me to meet many angels along the way.”

On a personal note, I was fortunate to work in a practice where we treated numerous children throughout the day. We have all treated the patient who struggles with strong anxieties due to their initial dental experiences as a child, and I always sought to make sure that each child treated would not have dental anxiety as an adult. I found a love for sharing that first dental experience with small children and was unaware how influential I had been until it was time to move. Upon my departure, I received verbal and written recognition from parents thanking me for treating their children and developing their concept of the importance of clean teeth. At that moment, I realized my actions and coaching had the ability to influence the future of an individual. Dental hygienists provide so much more than a dental appointment; you truly are affecting individuals’ lives long term.

Finding one’s passion may take time, it may come as a surprise, and it may require a little work. If you are struggling, there are numerous actions you may take: find a personal coach, reach out to a friend, read a specific book, and/or listen to the stories of your peers. In the end, you will find that a passion is not defined by money, and you will know why you became a dental hygienist with a greater purpose.

Your Ideas may be Inspired by the one who knows you best, which could be you.

Jackie Sanders is Manager of Professional Relations & Communications for SUNSTAR. She serves as a liaison responsible for communications with professional and industry associations, educational institutions and the dental professional community. She is a recognized and active opinion leader within the dental hygiene community and associated social networking programs. She serves on the ADEA Legislative Advisory Council, is a member of ADHA IOH Advisory Committee, and serves on several Editorial Advisory Boards.


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