Why One Hygienist Decided to Dust Off Her Laser for Periodontal Maintenance Care

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Laser. The word sounds scary if it isn’t understood. A laser produces a narrow and intense beam of light energy which can be used to treat a wide range of dental conditions. For a hygienist, the laser is an effective and comfortable way to decontaminate periodontal pockets, help treat gingivitis, remove necrotic tissue, or treat an annoying canker sore. Using a laser before periodontal therapy can reduce hemorrhaging tissue, increase visibility, and reduce healing times. Using the laser during a D4346 gingivitis patient is a safe and effective way to help the patient regain gingival health. Why then does the laser gather dust?

Convenience and practicality need to be part of the equation which helps run a smooth and efficient dental re-care appointment.

They say repetition is the key to learning a new skill. Without repetition, we become hesitant and uncertain about new procedures or technologies. Brain and muscle memory need to come into play to become truly proficient at a task. In dental hygiene school, we repeated instrumentation until we thought we could do it in our sleep. We practiced our fulcrum grip with pencils while going to non-related classes just to get the muscle memory and skill needed for proper instrumentation.  Repetition hones our skills, sharpens our mind, and strengthens our drive to be the best we can be. Why then do we think an 8-hour seminar will adequately prepare us to treat patients using laser technology?

It has been over a year since our office got a Laser.

The doctor, myself, and another hygienist, went to an 8-hour laser CE course and practiced using different lasers on a dry, dead, pig jaw. We left feeling excited and a little scared to use the new technology we had learned about at the seminar. The doctor put the laser cart in his operatory for ease of access. Everyone was on board for our new venture… or so we thought. Since we are a sedation dental office, a few sedated patients had the opportunity to receive the benefits of free laser gum therapy.

Shortly after setting up our laser I was periodically brought into the doctor’s operatory to do some subgingival decontamination. This was done with an assistant after a completed debridement to tidy up the patient’s mouth before major dental work being completed. Working in the doctor’s operatory felt like cooking in another person’s kitchen. Not feeling at ease or comfortable working in a different operatory made me feel awkward and unsure of myself. The laser treatment seemed easy enough, but the inconvenience of sharing the cart between operatories was a recipe for failure. Eventually, the laser cart became idle, a piece of unused office equipment gathering “dust.”

Now we all know what a tight schedule we as hygienists, who are incredibly detail-oriented, run.

Every patient is treated with sincerity and mindful care. Introductions, health history review, addressing patient concerns, updating digital records, intra-oral camera usage, periodontal charting, treatment, treatment recommendations, and Q & A are just some of the care we give our patients during a given scheduled hour. All the while this little man sets on our shoulders making sure we dot our “i’s” and cross our “t’s.” Oops, time has slipped by again, I have been signaled by the buzzer of my next patient’s arrival. A brief discussion about laser technology was mentioned to the patient, and it is decided that we will use this new technology at their next re-care appointment.

Long story short, one year later, I have finally braved up my nerve to use the laser for routine periodontal maintenance care. Last week I rolled the laser cart into my operatory, watched several YouTube videos to sharpen my memory and heighten my confidence. I officially rolled up my sleeves, dusted off that laser and put it to good use. This morning my 7:20 am periodontal scaling and root-planing patient received the added benefit of nicely decontaminated pockets and shortened healing time. Time to get sizzling! Repeat, time to get sizzling!

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Rebecca Marie Friend, BS, RDH
Rebecca Marie Friend, RDH, BS, attained her Associate of Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan in 1987, where she also met and married her husband. She has been a practicing dental hygienist for over 30 years and has raised three sons while working as a full-time clinical dental hygienist. Rebecca currently practices in Battle Creek, Michigan, for Dr. Earl E. Gaball, DDS, a general and sedation dentist. She resides in neighboring historic Marshall, Michigan. Rebecca is board certified in Nitrous Oxide and Local Anesthesia Administration and is certified in low-level laser therapy. Continuously striving to improve upon her skills and methods of forward-thinking in the dental world, she recently attained her Bachelor of Science degree in Oral Health Promotion through Action Research at O’Hehir University. She is actively involved in a mentorship with students at O’Hehir University. “I take pride in my abilities as a skilled periodontal therapist. I enjoy the patient-practitioner relationship that develops when trust and health are gained, taking mindful care of every individual that I connect with. The benefits of helping others achieve a healthy mouth and regain their confidence with a great smile and healthier self are very rewarding. Whole body health begins with the mouth.” In her free time, Rebecca enjoys visiting the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan where the sunsets are magical, the dunes are stunning, and the rocks are a collector’s delight. She loves to immerse herself in nature whenever she gets a chance and enjoys canoeing, kayaking, nature-walks, flexibility training, yoga, and little “get-a-ways” with her husband. Family life has always been important to her, and now that her three grown sons have spread their wings, she has a little more time to spread hers.