How I Beat the Dental Blues by Remembering Why I Started

© agephotography / Adobe Stock (author not pictured)

Like most typical teenagers, I toyed with many ideas throughout my high school career. Initially, I wanted to be an architect. After a brief job shadow with a local architect, I quickly realized the electric eraser was the only thing appealing to me about that job.

Then, I moved on to nursing around the same time my grandfather’s health deteriorated to the point of continuous care. I stepped up to the plate to help but instantly discovered that I wasn’t cut out for the job. If I couldn’t care for my grandfather, then I certainly couldn’t do it for complete strangers.

This left me with some serious soul-searching. That’s when my fate hit me straight in the face. I remember the moment I decided to become a dental hygienist.

As a “tween,” I was bullied immensely, and often, about my teeth. I had my father’s class III occlusion, which landed me straight in the middle of bulldog status. In high school, I received and completed orthodontic treatment, and gone were the days of my retrognathic jaw. I was overly proud of my beautiful smile and took every measure to ensure its health. Dental hygiene seemed like a no-brainer.

Eager Beginnings to Burnout

I remember being so eager to start my career during the dental hygiene program. I couldn’t wait to improve my patients’ oral health every day. Occasionally, an instructor would accompany us girls to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch between classes. During our conversations, I remember their complaints about the dentist they worked for, and a little voice in the back of my head said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes! Yes, I was sure I wanted to be a dental hygienist. And so I graduated and began the hunt for my career.

My first job was exciting simply because it was my first! I was happy with every single aspect because I was completely green and didn’t know the difference between what was “normal” and what was not. Fifteen patients on my schedule? Sure! I am young, and I can do this. WRONG! I had mistaken patient overload for confidence in my skills. And don’t even get me started on that pay! Things began to mount, and after a few short months, I was second-guessing my career choice.

My first job was a learning experience, and it served to guide me in finding a job that respected me for who I was and what I had to offer. But even after all of that, the inevitable burnout hit at about year six.

Let’s be honest: Dental hygiene can be a repetitive job day in and day out. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem that there is much variation from patient to patient. Then, in six months, we do it all over again with the same people. This monotonous duty can quickly affect many dental hygienists. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your career.

After reaching burnout, I began searching for a new career. I went back to college, obtained a bachelor’s degree, and scoured the classifieds daily. There were days I allowed that bitterness to affect me completely. Getting up in the morning and going to work became a challenge because I allowed my passion to be overshadowed by doubt. This snowballed into a completely miserable career.

Reevaluating and Taking Steps

After being unsuccessful in finding a career change, I decided maybe I just needed to reevaluate. What was it that created this burnout? How did I get here? Once I answered these questions and got to the root of the problem, I was able to amend the situation. After all, dental hygiene was my passion.

The first thing I did was take control of my schedule. I made sure I was allowed proper time for each patient accordingly. Thankfully, my boss was very accommodating. This alone helped to alleviate stress by not feeling rushed and saved a lot of hand fatigue. Don’t try to be a superstar at the expense of yourself and your patients! Quality, not quantity.

I made sure to have fun at work while also being productive. One thing most patients state about my office is how fun we are. Dentistry is scary for most people, and when an office’s atmosphere is tense, it makes for even edgier patients. Apprehensive patients make our jobs more complicated. While respecting your boss’s rules is important, I am sure it wouldn’t be frowned upon if you had fun while maintaining your professionalism.

Then, I decided I needed to interact more with other colleagues and dental-based groups because my sister, husband, and friends just could not relate to my dental-related stress. Enter the wonderful World Wide Web. I became a member of several groups on Facebook dedicated to dental hygiene. With many of these groups came wonderful opportunities. I use these groups to vent to those who understand my frustrations and as a way to discover new ways to assist my patients. The amount of knowledge I have collected is astounding.

Engaging in my local ADHA component has been another outlet for me. I try to attend several of the meetings each year. Socializing with other dental hygienists helps to lighten the aspect of our career. These meetings are not only enlightening, but they are fun. Surrounding yourself with passionate people will help rekindle your own passion.

I then asked myself, what else can I do? Where else can I extend my expertise? Every February, I speak to the local elementary school about dental health. I organized an event in my town to provide children with dental screenings.

I became involved in situations that impacted my career and the patients I treat. I let my voice be heard when my community debated removing water fluoridation. I participate in studies and research.

In Closing

Your career doesn’t have to be limited to the patients sitting in your chair. Dental hygiene has developed into a diversified field, offering multiple opportunities. You are smart and educated, so be creative and put that knowledge to use. I promise it will make you feel accomplished and appreciated!

Most of all, remember why you started in the first place. Why give up on your passion when you worked so hard to get where you are? Surround yourself with positive people and kick the blues. It is normal to be occasionally frustrated, and there will be terrible days. However, don’t let the doubt creep in and allow it to convince you to change your destiny.

By stepping outside the box, becoming more involved, and reevaluating your circumstances, you, too, can find the reason and motivation that led you down the dental hygiene path to begin with.

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