Taking Responsibility for Our Actions

It has been a rough go for many dental professionals of the recent years.  But the one area that has seen noticeable downturn is the profession of dental hygiene.  I read articles and threads and posts every day with the same theme;  “My doctor is cutting my hours” and “My doctor is making me clock out if a patient doesn’t show” or “My doctor is giving me less time to treat my patients” or “I don’t get any benefits”.  I could go on and on, but the difficult part for me is I am a dental hygienist and what I have to say may result in some of my colleagues wondering whose side I am on. So before you read on…know I am one of you. And I am desperately trying to help those of you who may be missing the point.

I have been practicing hygiene for nearly 30 years. Each time I take on a new position, I have had to negotiate negotiate negotiate to get what is fair and correct in terms of pay, benefits and necessities. No matter how badly I may have wanted a position (and there were times in my life when I really needed it) I refused to accept an offer into a culture that I knew wasn’t right for me.

There have been occasions when I was willing to accept less remuneration than I felt I deserved in an effort to get my foot in the door. Because I know without a doubt that once I begin treating my patients based on standard of care, raising the level of services delivered in the hygiene department and truly becoming part of the team, I will have zero difficulty receiving exactly what is fair and correct in addition to receiving whatever other benefits are offered. So here is the HUGE part of the problem our profession is facing.

We as a profession have done ourselves a great disservice. The chat and polish hygienists have perpetuated our image as the prima donna loss leader in the dental practice. Add to that, the influx of dental hygiene schools flooding the market and hungry hygienists with big student loans looking for a place to land, and a need to be able to pay their bills. Translation: Willing to accept whatever they can find just to have a job. And so begins the cycle of 40 minute hygiene visits, reduced patient care and rat wheel hygiene with a side order of, “You have a little bleeding and slight pocketing on the left, remember to floss and we will check it in 6 mos” WHAT???

As difficult as these times have become for so many hygienists with pay, schedule, clock out requests etc. we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we look in the mirror and ask the right questions, the answers lie within. Are 70% of your patients being treated as periodontal cases per standardized statistics, good grief…do you pick up your probe, have you implemented CAMBRA and apply to the 65% of the at risk patient base, are you committed to building professional relationships with your referral doctors and do you come to work early and stay late…on your dime if necessary to provide comprehensive care? And I am only naming a few things here.

So many of us focus on how much we make or how little we get instead of asking ourselves what are we truly giving back to our patients and dental practice. And I am not talking about a “great cleaning” here. We are licensed healthcare professionals and carry the burden and responsibility as such. If we want to be clock in clock out employees, then we should have no question as to why when our schedule looks like a shoot out, we are asked to clock out.

Hygiene is a profession not a job. It is up to US to educate ourselves. Seek out top notch continuing ed if our docs don’t provide it. I ASSURE every hygienist out there, if the very basic statistics of standard of care were being diligently followed, you would have more hygiene days than you could handle.

It’s time to pull up our boots, dive in head first and BE the change. Scaling, polishing and chatting about our family vacation is not comprehensive care. C’mon. Help your fellow hygienists out…

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