Reasons to become a dental hygienist

By: Megen Elliott, MS-OCL, RDH, CDA

Narrowing down just 5 reasons to be a dental hygienist was a challenge, the field of dental hygiene is so rewarding for so many unique reasons.

Relationships are a big part of what we do, relationships with our team and our patients are at the forefront of daily life in the clinical setting and can create an atmosphere for growth and recharge the passionate feeling we have for the profession.

5 Reasons To Become a Dental Hygienist

Though the list of reasons to become a dental hygienist is endless, check out the following 5 reasons to become a dental hygienist.

  1. Patient Relationships
  2. Whole-body Impact
  3. Great Colleagues
  4. Unique Opportunities
  5. Flexibility

1. Patient Relationships

As mentioned above, our relationships with our patients run deep. Long-term employment at a dental practice could mean 20+ year relationships with patients and their families. These relationships lead to trust and rapport which often leads to an increase in patient compliance and retention. Allowing a patient to feel comfortable in your dental chair isn’t always easy to achieve. We treat patients with varying levels of dental anxiety and dental histories, a consistent provider can help to ease some of this fear as patients come to learn what to expect during their dental appointment.

There are countless stories of patients’ relationships with their dental hygienists. Patients who felt lost when their favorite hygienist retired from the practice, patients who bring holiday gifts or treats for their dental hygienists, dental hygienists who have conversations about mental health or deeply personal matters such as abuse and help their patients seek help, we, are more than JUST someone who “scrapes” or cleans teeth.

Dental hygienists have the ability to change patients’ lives through achieving and maintaining oral health, detecting systemic conditions, and asking the right questions. One of the most heroic stories of a dental hygienist’s dedication to her patient is the story of Ann Dohm, Wisconsin RDH, and her patient Tim. According to an article in the Leader-Telegram, Tim “credits a dental appointment with saving his life.”

The article further explains that during his dental hygiene appointment Tim casually mentioned that his medical provider may be looking for his dental records as he was on the transplant list due to his failing kidneys. Hearing this, Ann took action and it was found she was a kidney match for Tim. Together, Tim and Ann underwent surgery and have a life-long bond as the transplant was a success. This unique story demonstrates the deep connection dental hygienists gain with their patients over time.

2. Whole-body Impact

In recent years, the research and education surrounding the connection of the oral cavity has been riveting. Work done by different organizations, such as the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), has been instrumental in educating dental professionals, and medical professionals alike.

Through interprofessional collaboration, we are able to connect our patients with the best care possible and play a key role in treating the patient as a whole person. For example, the oral connection between aspiration pneumonia or cardiovascular disease, among many other systemic conditions, has been widely explored by both dental and medical professionals.

As dental hygienists continue to be recognized as healthcare providers the value of preventative and periodontal related dental treatment should also be in the spotlight for both patients and other medical providers.

As we continue to refer our patients to their medical providers for irregular vitals or blood pressure, HPV screenings and vaccines, sleep medicine evaluations, and more, we will further foster relationships between dental facilities and medical facilities. We are also witnessing an increase in comprehensive care being provided by dental and medical teams who work collaboratively under one roof.   

3. Great Colleagues

Who doesn’t love a great team! The dental profession is full of unique, fun, and educated professionals who together, comprise a successful team in the practice. Dental practice dynamics can sometimes be a challenge for some, but there is nothing like finding the right fit with a team that displays mutual respect and works cohesively.

Beyond the walls of the dental practice, it is key to build your network of dental professionals. It is crucial that we connect so we can learn from each other and grow. Without a support system, we rely on our own knowledge, but we can’t know it all! Knowing who to call with questions, or posing a question in a dental forum, can help you gain the perspective you may not have previously considered.

A network can also keep your passion alive. In dental hygiene, there are so many ways to connect. Through professional associations, conferences, and more, we are able to gain professional relationships and friendships that last a lifetime. Prioritizing peer relationships, locally, regionally, and nationally is sometimes outside of our comfort zones but so important! Identify a peer or co-worker who can help push you to meet new people and make connections.

4. Unique Opportunities

When most of us enter the field of dental hygiene we imagine ourselves as a professional, working chairside, wearing PPE, and caring for patients. We see ourselves as part of a dental team, with our own treatment operatory, and working a long career in an established practice.

However, some of us realize this may not be reality. We may work part-time at a few practices or even temp at multiple practices. We may develop musculoskeletal conditions which prohibit long clinic days. We may explore options outside of clinical care such as working with dental products companies, becoming educators, authors, or speakers.

This is what is so exciting for us as dental hygienists. Our career options are truly endless if we are willing to seek the education and training required to branch out into different areas of the dental hygiene field. Through building your network, you will be exposed to dental professionals working in non-traditional work environments. If you find yourself interested in doing something new or different, ask questions, put it out there in the universe because people have been there and are willing to help.

Help each other, and remember, just because they win, doesn’t mean you lose. Together we elevate each other and our profession.

5. Flexibility

Whether you are working in a dental practice or elsewhere, typically these roles allow for flexibility. Most dental practices are open during the same hours per week which allows for consistency in planning in your personal life. Most practice hours allow for evenings and weekends spent with family, some other practices have a day off during the week.

Additionally, not all practices consider full-time to be a traditional 40 hours per week, some offices will work less and some more, this flexibility allows for a shorter or longer workday or workweek which may appeal to a variety of dental hygiene professionals. This flexibility could allow dental hygienists to have time for additional roles they may be passionate about and to pursue other interests outside of their employment.

Megen Elliott, MS-OCL, RDH, CDA, has over 13 years of experience in the dental field. She finds joy in inspiring others to grow and reach their full potential. As an educator, author, interprofessional speaker, volunteer leader, and consultant, Megen is able to explore many areas of the dental industry. Most recently, she has taken a deeper dive into her passion for mentoring and empowering others to succeed and also bridging connections between professionals and dental brands. Megen’s favorite activity is networking with dental colleagues both online and while attending dental conferences around the country. Founder and admin of the Hygiene Happy Vibes Facebook group and she hopes you will join your fellow dental professionals online and work to build each other up!
Reach out to connect on Instagram: @yourdentalfriendmegen or megenmelliott@gmail.com.

References:

American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH). (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.aaosh.org/.

Lindquist, E. (2018, October 10). Dental Hygienist donates kidney to patient. Leader-Telegram. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.leadertelegram.com/news/front-page/dental-hygienist-donates-kidney-to-patient/article_52ce7a69-4fde-5d22-838f-f992d8129eac.html.

Müller, F. (2015, March). Oral hygiene reduces the mortality from aspiration pneumonia in frail elders. Journal of dental research. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4541086/.

Shmerling, Robert H. M. D. (2021, April 22). Gum disease and the connection to heart disease. Harvard Health. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/gum-disease-and-the-connection-to-heart-disease.

Next Read: How To Become a Dental Hygienist

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