The Healthy Hygienist: How to Extend Your Hygiene Career with a Few Simple Steps

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As a dental hygienist, at the end of a long work day…

  • Does your body ache?
  • Are you exhausted?
  • Are you stressed out?
  • Do you wonder why you ever chose such a career that is so mentally and physically demanding?

Most hygienists enter our profession because we want to help people. What we quickly realize though, is that due to the nature of our job, while we’re helping others we often neglect to take care of ourselves.  As a dental hygienist of 23 years, I’ve experienced all of these things and know how they can make you feel discouraged.  However, I also know that with little effort and willingness to improve your situation, there are some simple, practical steps you can take that will lead to you being a healthy hygienist!

In my own search for a better way to remain a healthy hygienist, I was introduced to yoga. I found it to be something that could not only help me in my personal life but also in my professional career. Yoga is the union of mind, body, and spirit. As I began practicing and eventually teaching yoga, I quickly saw how one could incorporate some basics into the hygiene work day to help create a healthy balance in their lives.

The “basics” I’m referring to are the following daily steps:

Mind

  • Set Intentions – These are ideas you can plan to carry out during the day that will have a positive impact. Think of them as short-term goals to help keep you on track. For example, “I’m going to greet everyone with a smile today,” or “I’m going to manage my time wisely with each patient.”
  • Conscious Concentration – This means making an effort to focus on what matters and to avoid distractions. Work your intentions! Other ways are by maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” whereby you’re thankful, appreciate your coworkers and patients, and allow yourself to be present for them. Avoid checking your smartphone unless it’s critical. There is no real need to be on social media during the workday. It will still be there when you leave the office.

Body

  • Breathe – Incorporate diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing into your day, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Such deep breathing helps to control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax. This is also something you can teach to your patients that may suffer from anxiety.
  • Proper Ergonomics – Be mindful of positioning (you and your patient), the overhead light angle, and always use dental loupes to help prevent physical strain. Don’t compromise your posture!
  • Stretch – There are many simple stretches you can incorporate in between patients or during a break that will boost your energy and act as a counterbalance to the positions we hold throughout the day. (See the Helpful Stretches & Excercises section further down)
  • BYO Lunch – Avoid ordering out for fast food, or worse yet, not eating anything at all. Bring your own healthy lunch and save money at the same time! Preparation is key. On Sunday nights, I like to prepare my menu for the week. From there, I chop up veggies, make a healthy trail mix, and grill or sauté chicken (or some other protein) that will last into the week. Drink plenty of water and avoid too much caffeine. It will help keep you full, energized, and focused. I infuse my water with fruits, cucumbers, or herbs. Try building this into your routine, and you’ll notice a real difference in the way you feel!

Spirit

  • Honor Yourself – Be self-aware and focus on the benefits that your mind and body exercises will bring.  Quiet your mind and breathe, especially if the day gets tough. Remember your intentions for the day, and use this as means to get back to your center.
  • Keep it Going – Remember that all of this is a cycle. The positive energy you will gain will not only help you be healthier but will also radiate to your patients and coworkers to help motivate them. Once you start feeling the results, you’ll want to continue with this process that feeds on itself!

One of the tenets of dental hygiene is the importance of educating patients on how they can best help themselves. Our role is to do just that as it relates to our patients practicing proper oral hygiene, helping them create a systematic approach to maintenance, and living a healthy lifestyle.

For hygienists to have a positive influence in this regard, we need to practice what we preach by staying healthy ourselves.  For many of us that lead busy lives as a spouse or significant other, mother or father, or anyone with many outside obligations, it isn’t always easy to do these types of things outside of work to stay healthy. Whether or not you already exercise your mind, body, and spirit inside or outside of work, practicing these basics are always helpful. So, if you’re not already doing them, why not give ‘em a try?

With a little planning, intention setting, and follow-through, it can be relatively easy to incorporate these basics into your day to not only help your physical but also your mental and spiritual well-being.

Helpful Stretches & Exercises at Work

Neck Stretch

While sitting up tall, drop left ear to left shoulder. With the left hand, gently press head toward the left shoulder. Draw right shoulder down to intensify the stretch. Hold the position for 3 to 5 breaths. Then switch to the other side.

Simple Spinal Twist

While sitting up tall, keeping hips and knees forward, feet firmly planted, place right hand on left knee and place/bind left arm across the lower back. As you inhale, lengthen your spine, as you exhale twist to the left.  Hold the position for 3 to 5 breaths. Then switch to the other side.

Shoulder/Chest Openers

  1. Standing in a door jamb, feet parallel and hip distance apart, place forearms on the wall at a 90o angle, hands level with head. Keep shoulders square to the front. Shift hips forward slightly and bend at waist (as if you are falling into the doorway). You will feel slight tension in the front of your shoulders and chest. Hold the position for 3 to 5 breaths. Repeat as desired.
  2. Standing with feet parallel and hip distance apart, clasp hands behind back, drawing shoulder blades toward each other and down the back. To intensify the stretch, slightly bend knees, hinge/bend at the hip joint and forward fold allowing the arms to raise behind you. Hold the position for 3 to 5 breaths. Release the arms, but stay in forward fold for another three Keeping knees bent, slowly roll up to a standing position.  Repeat as desired.

Walk

If you have a break, and time permits, go for a brisk walk while focusing on your breath. Not only is it great exercise, but it also allows you to change your environment so you can refocus.

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Veronica Rockwitz, RDH; RYT-200
Veronica started her career as a Registered Dental Hygienist in 1995 and has worked in practices that specialize in world-class dentistry. She is currently licensed in NY, NJ, and GA.

Through continuing education, networking with other healthcare professionals, and staying abreast of the latest advancements in systems and technology, Veronica has developed into a leader in her field. She currently works for a progressive dentist that specializes in occlusal therapy, where she is responsible for training, coaching, and mentoring her team members. Veronica also works as a trainer for a global dental products company where she educates dental offices on periodontal therapy.

As a Registered Yoga Teacher since 2007, Veronica incorporates multiple yoga disciplines into her classes with the intention of creating a warm, caring environment where she shares her enthusiasm and compassion with students of all levels. She truly believes that yoga is the foundation for a balanced lifestyle which can open one to life’s infinite possibilities.

Veronica enjoys her role as a healthcare professional and teacher that is capable of effectively communicating her learnings to positively influence others.

Currently living in Alpharetta, Georgia, Veronica is married and the mother of two wonderful children. Eager to meet new patients and students, her personal mission is to provide excellent care and to educate them on