Things I Wish I Could Tell Myself When I Started Hygiene

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The ever-popular catchphrase that hindsight is 20/20 has been validated throughout my dental hygiene career. If the 15-year veteran in me could go back to talk to the dental hygiene student in me, she would have a plethora of advice and suggestions to offer. However, all I can do now is pass along what I have learned to those who are just beginning their dental hygiene careers (and, of course, continue to make strides with my own career).

Thinking back upon dental hygiene school, I do not recall much discussion about ergonomics. To the school’s defense, things have progressed immensely during the past 15 years. Due to studies and research, society is much more aware of why and how a dental professional should take particular precautions.

Sadly, even if my school had drilled home the importance of ergonomics to my naïve self, my I- can-conquer-the-world attitude would have likely intervened and taken predominance. So, here I am 15 years later regretting not have taken better care of me, but I am definitely making progress to do better for my future.

You Are Not Superhuman

One conversation I would have with my younger self would be about scheduling. Why it took me so long to realize that not every patient fits a cookie-cutter appointment is beyond my comprehension. Having worked in offices that do not offer flexible appointment times in regard to the patient’s needs, I realize now how detrimental that can be on the body, specifically the hands.

Initially, I felt like superwoman being able to accomplish an overpacked schedule. I was young and apparently felt this was the expected norm. I understand that many dental hygienists will be forced to work in offices that do not allow fluctuation with scheduling simply to bridge an employment gap. However, we should at least attempt to convince the dentist that flexible scheduling is better not only for the hygienist but for the patient as well. If you are blessed with an office that allows you to alter the appointment time, take the leniency to full heart.

Use the Right Equipment, No Matter the Cost

Nearly 10 years into my career, I took control of the equipment that I use, no matter the cost. Many offices do not upgrade routinely, if at all, and may not offer benefits that pay for equipment/tools that will be beneficial to you.

Due to such situations, I slowly started a fund that I keep replenished specifically for my dental hygiene career. I purchased my first pair of loupes at my 13-year mark in my career. The plunge was more than worth it. If only I had been proactive enough to purchase loupes from the very beginning, just maybe the eye fatigue and my lower back would be a little more forgiving.

If you have a need for a particular item that will elevate your performance of daily duties, by all means, purchase it yourself.

Network and Socialize

The veteran in me would definitely advise attending dental conferences and to network with my fellow dental professionals often. Unfortunately, Facebook didn’t exist when I graduated, as well as the amazing groups that can be connected with online. I did not attend my first dental conference until I was in my 13th year of dental hygiene.

This mainly goes back to the monetary issue. Since delegating funds for dental-related purposes, I make it a goal to attend at least one a year. Networking encourages a bond with like-minded individuals where lasting friendships will form, as well as help you expand in your practice to depths you weren’t aware existed.

Having that web of friends can be so important and helpful when growing your career. Dental conferences not only help you achieve your continuing education credits, but they help you learn beyond what you read online and in magazines.

Let It Go!

At the end of the day, when you clock out, leave all the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing at the door. Do not take that home to your family. Why allow the bitterness to have control over you?

I promise when you return to work, it will be waiting for you at the door where you left it. I completely understand there are instances where things need to be dealt with outside of work but do not give this grievance permission to impact your nonwork life.

It’s Not Only About the Money!

Many will disagree with me on this point, and that is perfectly OK. At the end of the day, you have to be you. While receiving deserved pay is an important aspect of any occupation, it should not be the only driving factor in job satisfaction.

Happiness is something you simply cannot place a price tag on. Maintaining a career position in complete misery simply because the pay is better is not a wise choice. Misery does love company, and if you are miserable going to your job every day the people around you will become miserable, including your patients. Happiness first!

Lastly, Stay Active!

Luckily for me, I have always been an active person. Dental professionals’ bodies are placed in awkward positions routinely and repeatedly. By keeping our bodies active, we are helping gain core strength, which supports our upright backs, maintains flexibility, and releases the stress that builds daily.

Stretching is also very important. While waiting on my doctor to do an exam for my patient, I will perform inconspicuous little stretches of my back, neck, and hands. Yoga is a great tool to implement in your exercise routine for both mind and body. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!

While I am not as seasoned as some respected dental professionals, I am far enough along in my career that I can vouch for the things that I would do differently if given the opportunity. I am embracing the wisdom of my fellow hygienists and hopefully can pass advice on to those after me.

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Brooke Sergent, RDH, BS
Brooke Sergent, RDH, BS, graduated cum laude from Big Sandy Community and Technical College Dental Hygiene program in 2004, where she was also the recipient of the Colgate S.T.A.R. award. In 2005, she moved to East Tennessee and earned her Bachelors in Science from Tennessee Tech University based in Cookeville, TN. Brooke served on the Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board in Piscataway, NJ, in 2013. In 2014, she organized a Colgate Bright Smiles Bright Future Event for a local elementary school. Brooke currently works in private practice and serves as a BURST Ambassador.