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    Hey dental hygienists, it's time to stop blaming the victim


    Stories on all types of media question whether victims of sexual harassment, rape, bullying, poverty and more are at least partially to blame for their circumstances. How often do oral health professionals do the same—blame the victim for new or continuing conditions?

    Avoiding vulnerability

    An article in Psychology Today says blaming the victim is not just about avoiding culpability or responsibility; it’s also about avoiding vulnerability. Many of us have read or at least heard of the 1970s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

    The reality of life is bad things do happen. We like to see the world as a safe and happy place. There is no argument that how you see the world contributes to personal happiness. When our sense of the world is upset by someone else being vulnerable, our own sense of well-being can be threatened. We like predicable consequences. If this can happen to this person, how vulnerable am I? So the thinking then becomes: That person must have played a role in his or her own problems e.g. the woman’s clothes were too sexy so she set herself up for rape. This is not usually a consciousness thought process.

    More from DiGangi and Gutkowski: 3 ways to participate in the dental practice without employees

    Blaming the patient

    This subconscious thinking can play out in our relationships with patients. When a patient presents for a dental hygiene appointment, most often there is an automatic assumption of what is needed. We have taught the patient to expect scraping, polishing and lecturing about flossing. This expectation is deeply ingrained; it isn’t questioned by anyone. Care is performed with everyone believing it is preventive. When the patient presents with breakdown and disease, they are seen as the one at fault. They must not have been flossing; they must have a poor diet, they must have ... Blame the victim.

    We hear your arguments already, but ask yourself what really might have happened here. Was an accurate risk assessment, as well as a disease evaluation, performed prior to care? Have you used any systemized way to measure oral dryness/hydration (hyposalivation screening tool)? Does the person have any breathing issues or sleep apnea (Malipati Score or Epworth Sleepiness Scale)? Did you take vital signs (normal ranges)? Did you confirm his or her medications just by asking if anything has changed (e-prescribing)? Are the medications her or she is taking genetically compatible? There is a simple way to test that evaluated prescription and dosing decisions based on individual genetics (DNA DrugMap). Is his or her saliva healthy (Saliva-Check BUFFER)? Is the pH level healthy (pH2OH)? Was autofluorence technology used to determine a caries infection (Spectra or SOPROCARE) or did you just use a bent metal wire to find an obvious hole? These are just a few of the evaluations and risk assessments that are not the patient’s responsibility; they are the professional responsibility of the oral health provider.

    Related reading: 3 baked-in-the-cake patient-enabling behaviors

    Continue reading on Page 2 ...

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    Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS
    Patti DiGangi, RDH, BS is a certified Health Information Technology trainer through the Office of the National Coordinator for ...


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