5 Dental Hygiene School Tips for Staying Poised from the Beginning

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After a long, anticipating wait, you have been selected to enter hygiene school. You did all the prerequisites, got good grades, and now you are here! In two or three years, depending on your program, you will enter the respectable and rewarding dental profession.

Two years do not sound like much, but trust me, the days are packed in a dental hygiene program. Once you enter, things start rolling quickly, and you hardly get a breather. As someone who recently graduated, I will tell you the intensity of the schedule as well as the academic and clinical expectations that the program has of incoming students comes as a shock to many who enter hygiene school. You not only have to be book smart to get good grades, but you also need to have great social skills to deal with patients as well as great motor skills to learn new grips for instrumentation.

All of this can be overwhelming and can lead to anxiety and self-doubt. But fear not, you are not alone. If you ask any hygienists if hygiene school was hard, I guarantee most of them will nod in affirmation. People will give you advice to prioritize self-care, compartmentalize life outside hygiene school and life within it, and be organized for staying ahead in your studies.

These suggestions are great advice, and you should consider them. However, after two years of hygiene school, the following are few tips that I want to share to help you ease into the amazing world of hygiene school.

1) Do Not Procrastinate

I remember when I was doing my prerequisite courses, I could leisurely choose the time and number of courses for a given semester. Once in hygiene school, you have a predetermined set of courses per semester. Assignments, quizzes, and competencies start the very first week.

Make a habit of finishing assignments as soon as you possibly can. I sometimes noticed there used to be many assignments, and they would be staggered in such a way that, if you were not careful, you could easily miss the due date. My organized classmates would write the due dates in their planners. I would just do them as they came as I was too scared to forget.

If an athlete falls at the very beginning of a race, it is next to impossible to catch up, especially if it’s a sprint race. Trust me, these hygiene school semesters are sprints. Do not leave things for the last minute.

2) All Subjects are Connected

One thing I noticed during the very first semester was that there is connectivity and flow among all the subjects they teach you. In radiology, you will study the shape of a mandibular molar and all the landmarks around it. Then, in anatomy, they will teach you its eruption times and how it looks, and then in hygiene care, they will show why there is more plaque accumulation on that molar due to its anatomy.

Staying focused on one subject will benefit you in another as well. You will learn the anomalies in the development of teeth, which will later be repeated in oral pathology.

The point I want to make is that, if you study well for one subject, it will help you with your other subjects and that will make things less overwhelming.

3) United We Stand

If I say I would have succeeded without the help of my classmates, I would be lying. Our class underwent hygiene school during the pandemic. Hygiene school was hard but add the uncertainty of pandemic to the mix, and the stress level goes off the charts. Without the strong group that we were, I am sure it would have been impossible to go through it.

Everyone is good at something. Some people are great organizers, others are awesome teachers, some are great listeners, and some are great leaders. Every class has a combination of all of them, so try to take advantage of it. I was not very good at doing some computer-related things and would heavily rely on my classmates who were good at it. Then there were classmates who kept track of all the assignments and would regularly remind us of what was due. Some of us were the cheerleaders who kept positive vibes flowing, or if someone needed a shoulder to cry, it was there for them.

Trust me, there is no one who will understand you better than your own classmates as they are going through the same journey as you are. By helping each other, you divide the stress. Try to be generous, and you will receive generosity.

Don’t ignore the power of having a strong, reliable peer group. Going through COVID made us even more united. Ours was a batch who endured it firsthand.

4) Don’t Hesitate to Ask a Teacher

I don’t know why but I feel there is a great deal of hesitation when it comes to asking for guidance from the teachers. You cannot self-study yourself through hygiene school. You depend on your teachers. The teachers are there to guide you, so don’t be shy in asking about things you don’t understand. They all know that you are learning new skills, and it takes time for muscle memory to kick in.

So, hear their advice. Don’t get frustrated if they can grip an instrument with ease while you can’t figure the head or the tail of it. I remember my struggles and frustration with instrumentation and how my teachers would literally hold my hand and guide me into the proper grip.

Understanding certain things in didactic studies can also take a toll on the brain. So make sure you understand before the teacher moves forward. I was lucky because, at my college, some of our teachers even counseled students who were going through a rough patch. Trust me, they have been through it and know a lot about the mindset you are in. Don’t be shy and take their help. They will be more than happy to help you.

5) Don’t Be Afraid of the F Word

Remember how I said everyone is good at something? Well, everyone is also not good at everything, and hygiene school demands a whole lot of everything.

As previously mentioned, there are didactic studies, social skills, and motor skills that you need to learn in order to become a hygienist. No one can master all of that immediately. So, yes, you will struggle with one thing or the other.

The “F” word I am pointing to is “failure.” Yes, during your time at hygiene school, there will be quizzes, tests, or competencies that you might fail. But you know what? It is perfectly OK because no one is good at everything.

Don’t get discouraged, and just be steadfast. You are bombarded with learning so many skills, and every now and then, the brain will refuse to comply. Think of the toddler who has just learned to walk. Have you noticed how many times he falls? Imagine if that toddler gives up after the first one or two falls? Will he ever learn to walk?

All you have to do is look at the big picture, stay positive, and learn from the minor failures. Instead of losing hope, learn to be humble and tell yourself that you will improve yourself, and trust me, it will happen.

Hygiene school is hard, but you were chosen for it, which means someone saw in you the potential to overcome all the challenges that this field throws your way. Have faith in yourself, and this mountain will be yours to conquer.

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Syeda Ijaz, RDH, BDS, moved to the U.S with her husband in 2004 from her native country of Pakistan. A dentist back in her country, she had to put a pause on pursuing her career in the U.S because she wanted to focus on the proper upbringing of her children. Once her youngest started going to school, she wanted to be connected to dentistry again. Dental hygiene appealed to her as it gave her a perfect balance between work and home. She is a graduate of the Collin College Dental Hygiene program. For Syeda, providing dental hygiene is a form of service that improves the lives of people. Coming from another country, she understands the hurdles and hesitations immigrants might feel in seeking dental help. Her passion is to help the underserved communities understand the dental system and educate them about oral hygiene.