25 Moments Only a Dental Hygienist Can Really Understand

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Having been a dental hygienist for some time, I have navigated a lot of personalities and quirks. Any profession that involves regular contact with large portions of the general public and close quarters with coworkers is bound to offer its fair share of hardships and, occasionally, some humor.

After the year we have had, it is time to have a healthy laugh. These are the top 25 relatable moments of my day that make me chuckle or cry ─ and only fellow hygienists could possibly understand.

The Temptations

While I have vowed to start making healthier dietary choices, the office lunchroom has become the Willy Wonka world of naughty temptations. Donuts, cakes, bagels, bakery goods, even chocolates delivered to the office from some girl’s boyfriend for her birthday. It is only a matter of time before I, too, grow so enormous that the Oompa-Loompas come and have to roll me out of the building to the juicing room like Violet Beauregarde.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Leave Me Alone

My third patient of the day spends every break in the appointment trying to set me up with her son. He still lives with her. He’s 38.

If Looks Could Kill

I notice my coworker is giving me the stink-eye all day. I have done nothing to deserve this. I glare back to illustrate my distaste for her scowling. We continue to do this for the following four days. The weekend comes, and everyone forgets about it by Monday. Neither one of us ever knows why it began.

Hello, Clarice

The last patient of the night stares at my eyes throughout the entire appointment. I can feel it. I schedule his recall with another hygienist.

Not Chanel No. 5

Someone continues to buy the fresh linen-scented bathroom spray, which smells far worse than any other organically-generated smell ever could. It smells like a dryer sheet on steroids. It masks absolutely nothing but instead comingles with all other smells, forming a thick blanket of noxious fumes that nearly suffocate me by the time I finish peeing. I try to hold my breath. Sometimes I think I can actually see the molecules suspended in the air. I hide the spray, but by the next week, there is another bottle.

Spell Check

A yellow, passive-aggressive Post-it Note on the office refrigerator is grammatically incorrect. I make corrections in red pen.

Bop It or Drop It

Drop-it-day is almost always a day when I am running behind. I go to choose a prophy paste, then fumble it and watch it skitter across the floor like a rogue prison rat. This is followed by dropping a glove, an XCP, and my phone facedown in the parking lot at lunch. By the end of the day, when I drop the empty box of gloves I am taking to the recycling bin, I finally lose it and violently kick it across the floor. I then tear it into 30 pieces while murmuring obscenities under my breath. A coworker watches me do this, and we eventually make eye contact. She says nothing but simply nods.

The Bridge to Terabithia

My elderly patient insists that the bridge on her lower right has lasted for 40 years without her flossing it, so there is no need for me to do so during her cleaning. It is “delicate.”

Sharing is Caring

Oh, we’ve all met a Sharon-the-oversharer at some point in our day, and it’s usually when we are behind. Sharon is sweeter than a strawberry rhubarb pie at sunset, but, boy, does she like to chat! Topics barrel from one to the next without so much as a segue or even a breath in between. I physically stuff my fingers in her mouth mid-sentence in order to complete the cleaning. And even then, muffled and distorted, nearly severing my phalanges, she’s still going.

The Bear Cage

Occasionally, and this is not independent of PMS, my operatory will become a cemetery for colleagues who have dared enter my lair. Room 5 will start to be referred to as “The Cage,” and I am the bear, unreasonable and easily provoked.

Impractical Jokers

Someone usually starts the cascade, jumping out from behind a wall, hiding pens, rearranging bins. Once it begins, it is a never-ending war of petty scares and annoyances for several weeks. I learn not to walk with a full cup of any sort of beverage. After three weeks, everyone gets bored of the game and goes back to work. It will start again a few months later.

Delta Dawn

Before the morning dew has even evaporated from the blades of grass, there’s my colleague, Perky Penelope, chattering away in my ear about some nonsense before 8 a.m. I refuse to make eye contact and obnoxiously strike the keyboard to illustrate my lack of interest and desire to drown out the droning. Eventually, she realizes that I am perpetually grouchy in the morning, which only encourages her more.

Do Not Touch

There is a switch I pass on the way into the office, and it is labeled, “Master switch ─ Do Not Turn Off.” Every fiber of my being wants to turn it off. I think about it every day.

Batting a Thousand

A six-year-old patient got hit with the end of her brother’s Wiffle Ball bat, and #E and F have exfoliated. Mom is unamused. The patient is traumatized. Brother is still chuckling in the corner.

Scared the $h!t Out of Him

It is my 16-month-old patient’s first time. The baby gets so worked up he poops. The room still smells, four patients later. Most patients thought it was me.

Disappearing Act

I begin the day with five pens in the room, but by patient #6, I find myself wandering over to the neighboring operatory to find another pen. One topples out of my scrub top that night when I take it off to shower. Eventually, I clean out my junk drawer at home to find 23 pens with my office name on them. I bring them back to the office and repeat the purge every six months.

Regular or Decaf?

The fourth patient presents with radiographic hooks of calculus so substantial I could hang my mittens off of the distal of #15. He insists he wants a “regular cleaning.”

Olympic Curling

The lower lip strength of my last patient parallels that of a decorated bodybuilder. If curling the lower lip toward the teeth was an Olympic event, he would be the Michael Phelps of the sport. I remind him to relax his lips several times, but the lip continues to do acrobatics throughout the appointment. I try to throw him off by moving to another portion of the mouth, then doing a sneak-attack back to the area, but my efforts are futile.

Language Barrier

The new patient only speaks Spanish. I muddle through several appointments with her, and she seems amused by my willingness to try to speak her language. During the fourth appointment, I learn that the patient speaks English after all.

Doctor, Doctor, Give me the News

I trip up three steps coming back from lunch. I lie there, shin pulsing in pain in the privacy of the stairwell, wondering if I’ve fractured my tibia. I fantasize about milking the injury, insisting that I must go to a doctor, must be whisked away in an ambulance for further inspection, and simply cannot finish out the rest of the workday. I remember that my medical deductible is seven grand and that the x-ray, ibuprofen, and an ace bandage I’d undoubtedly receive at the local Patient First would probably cost 200 dollars. I begrudgingly trot up the steps, miraculously healed.

Dove Day

Today is day #3 of dry shampoo. One of my coworkers insists that I dyed it and that the “lighter color looks so much better.” I’m not sure if I should be offended or not.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

Another hygienist at the office announces she is expecting. Everyone seems excited. She posts pictures of her stomach every two weeks on Facebook. I unfollow her.

Black and Blue

There are days I leave the office feeling like I got into a fight with my operatory ─ and lost. I stood up too fast and plowed my forehead into the corner of the overhead bins during patient #1. I try to ignore the growing welt for the next few patients, only to turn too quickly during an FMX and ram my hip into the corner of the counter. I strain myself not to curse in front of the patient. I blink away the stars and keep going. My doctor asks me during a routine exam if I am safe at home, then glances at the bruises on my knees, shins, and forehead. I live alone.

The Age of Reason

My second patient decides he does not want x-rays because every time we take them, he has a cavity. I explain that the cavities are still there without the x-rays. He still doesn’t understand.

It’s Not a Tumor

I find a dentigerous cyst on a patient’s pan that is nearly two-thirds of the mandible. I am energized by the find. The patient is not.

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Jenna Arcaro, RDH
Jenna Arcaro, RDH, has practiced in both pediatric and general private practices since graduating from Northampton Community College in 2013. Dubbed the office Perio Queen, she embraces teaching, from peer tutoring in college to fostering high school intern programs, all the way to developing continuing education courses. A competitive runner and wildly unsuccessful fitness influencer, she enjoys hiking with her chubby Labrador Retriever and settling in with a Freida McFadden novel. The author of three mystery novels herself, much of her time has been spent writing, achieving publication in many directions, from dentistry to psychology.