Cultivating Positivity in the Dental Office: How Dental Hygienists Can be the Change

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A positive mindset is impactful and life-changing. What we focus on multiplies, and what we do day in and day out makes a big difference ‒ a simple principle but one that is often forgotten. Here are five characteristics of a positive mindset that can be applied in a dental hygiene career:

1. Optimism ‒ A willingness to try and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off. Stay positive with your thoughts, words, and actions.

2. Acceptance ‒ Acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to. Life is a learning experience. Reflect on daily experiences for knowledge.

3. Resilience ‒ Bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up. The goal is the best patient care possible. How can you best achieve that?

4. Gratitude ‒ Actively, continuously appreciating the good things in your life. Acknowledge all the good in your life, both professionally and personally.

5. Mindfulness ‒ Dedicating the mind to conscious awareness and enhancing the ability to focus. Shift your focus to positivity, and don’t let negativity creep in.

6. Integrity ‒ The trait of being honorable, righteous, and straightforward instead of deceitful and self-serving.1,2 Do you do what you know is right even when no one is watching?

Keep in mind these characteristics are fluid, meaning they work in both directions. By actively engaging with the core characteristics, you can maintain a positive mindset. As dental hygienists familiar with daily routines, you know that once your habits are maintained, they occur with little to no thought. They are who you become.

In the workplace, you’ll be a better hygienist. At home, you’ll be a better friend, partner, and parent.

Want to improve your quality of life? In my opinion, awareness and integrity are directly linked to a better life. Other benefits include better overall health, greater well-being, and a better ability to manage and cope with stress.

Positive thinking can:

  • Increase your lifespan
  • Reduce rates of depression and levels of distress
  • Give you greater resistance to the illness
  • Improve your overall psychological and physical well-being
  • Improve your cardiovascular health and protect you from cardiovascular disease
  • Build your coping skills to help keep you afloat during challenging times3

The American philosopher Noam Chomsky states, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

What Makes Dental Hygienists Not Positive

As a dental consultant in the Midwest, I have met hundreds of dental hygienists, many of whom struggle with maintaining a positive mindset. Multiple factors are involved, of course, but from my experience, the top three contributing factors to unhappy hygienists are:

  1. Lack of clinical calibration
  2. Feeling underappreciated
  3. Core principles in terms of mission, vision, and values do not align with the dental practice philosophy

Let me elaborate. Clinical calibration means understanding and committing to what the office philosophy is. Doctors develop these calibrated protocols to help lead staff members toward clarity for patients during treatment. This also takes the guesswork out of patient care for the hygiene team. We do what is best for our patient’s overall health.

Simple, right? If you don’t agree with the doctor’s philosophy of care, how can you genuinely provide excellent care to your patients? This is tough, and a conversation needs to happen. Align your thoughts and ask questions to understand why their clinical calibration protocols and standards differ from yours. You may become stuck with a negative perception and mindset without questions and conversation.

Set aside time dedicated to clinical calibration. Look at photos and case examples as a team with your doctor. Even though dentistry is gray, try to make this process black and white by writing down specifics on when ‒ but more importantly, why ‒ a doctor recommends restorative treatment. Follow up on these protocols as case examples come up that didn’t match the set criteria and talk about why the treatment plan differed.

We’ve all felt underappreciated, and it’s hard. This isn’t about money. It’s about genuine appreciation for your hard work and dedication to patient care. Here’s the kicker: Unless you practice genuine and sincere appreciation, it likely will not be reciprocated. Ouch! But remember this, what you focus on multiplies, and your positivity will have a domino effect.

To the doctor, try saying, “Thanks for being so timely with exams this morning. I know you had a busy schedule.”

To dental assistants, try saying, “Thanks for helping turn over my room. Please let me know if I can help you with anything this afternoon.”

Chances are, with some appreciation shown, your exams will continue to be timely, and if time allows, assistants will show extra effort to help you if your schedule is running behind.

With patience and persistence, you’ll naturally start to see silver linings in less-than-ideal situations when you’re actively working to recognize the positive aspects of your life – both inside the dental office and out, and if not, it’s time for some self-reflection. What is it in your professional life that would make you happy?

This starts with a conversation. Expressing yourself through your words can be quite rewarding and reap many benefits. Ask yourself: What am I feeling? What is my meaning? What are my options if the other person responds to me in a difficult manner? If you focus on your own honest feelings, you may find it easier to speak expressively, especially in a professional setting.

Try genuine and sincere appreciation and praise for a week to see the domino effect of positivity yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight. My mom always told me, “Kill them with kindness” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” My mom was right. Words, both encouraging and demeaning, are strong and leave lasting impressions. Furthermore, they are contagious. Strive to give more compliments and use kinder words, even when difficult.

Anne Frank wrote, “Whoever is happy will make others happy.”

Start this application of a positive mindset today. Be happy to be gifted another day and choose to make the most of it! Cultivate positivity in your dental practice.

Change needs to start somewhere. Life is too short to work in an environment where your purpose and aspirations are dimmed with negativity. Stir up a conversation in your practice: Optimism, acceptance, resilience, gratitude, mindfulness, and integrity – where do you fall short, and where do you exceed?

Before you leave, check out the Today’s RDH self-study CE courses. All courses are peer-reviewed and non-sponsored to focus solely on high-quality education. Click here now.

Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:


  1. Blank, C. (2018, December 5). The Characteristics of a Positive Attitude. LiveStrong.
  2. 5 Inner Characteristics of a Positive Thinker. (2019, August 28). Power of Positivity.
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, February 3). Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-talk to Reduce Stress. Mayo Clinic.
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Brooke Ackerman, MSDH
Brooke Ackerman, MSDH, is known as an efficient and personable dental professional with a passion for education and connecting in ways that truly make a difference. Her creative expertise in communication, leadership, and innovation within the dental office and her commitment to working within a network of professionals as part of a dynamic team committed to excellence make Brooke a trusted expert in the dental field - an advocate for successful dental practices. Brooke has over 10 years of experience practicing clinically as a Dental Hygienist and holds a Master’s degree in Dental Hygiene, with a focus on Management through the U of MN/Carlson School of Business. Brooke is a practice management consultant at Advanced Practice Management. You may contact Brooke at 952-921-3360 or through