Community and Connection: The Importance of Building a Supportive Dental Hygiene Network

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Building a professional network in dental hygiene helps mitigate and reduce workplace stress while also providing a strong foundation for clinical improvement.

Community and Connection: The Importance of Building a Supportive Dental Hygiene Network. Image credit: © FrankBoston – stock.adobe.com

Community and Connection: The Importance of Building a Supportive Dental Hygiene Network. Image credit: © FrankBoston – stock.adobe.com

In dental hygiene, the challenges faced by practitioners extend beyond the clinical setting, impacting their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Alarming statistics reveal that a staggering 97% of dental professionals encounter pain throughout their careers, highlighting the pressing need for a comprehensive approach to address the multifaceted toll on their overall health.¹⁻² Stress and burnout rates among dental hygienists are also notably high, potentially influencing not only professional performance but also the quality of patient care.³ In this article, we’ll dive into the profound impact of these challenges and underscore the critical role of building a professional network in supporting dental hygienists on their journey to well-being and career growth.

Challenges in Dental Hygiene

We know that the daily grind of dental hygiene involves more than just patient care. Dental hygienists navigate busy, ever-changing schedules, challenging patients, toxic work environments, and ergonomic challenges, all while trying to fit everything that needs to be done into short appointment times. The toll of these factors on their physical health is undeniable, with many practitioners facing acute and chronic pain, sometimes leading to disability, retirement, and career change.⁴ Beyond the physical strain, the mental stress of navigating challenging patients and co-workers, coupled with demanding schedules, creates a unique set of challenges. Effective coping mechanisms become crucial in such an environment, and a supportive dental community emerges as an invaluable resource for navigating these hurdles.

The Healing Power of Community

Building a community and establishing connections within the dental hygiene profession goes beyond professional gestures; it can become a therapeutic support system for practitioners. A network serves as a source of emotional support, encouragement, and shared experiences. Understanding that others face similar challenges fosters a sense of solidarity, providing dental hygienists with the reassurance that they are not alone in their struggles. This collective strength forms the cornerstone of a profession-wide support system that can significantly contribute to individual well-being.

Understanding the Importance of Like-Minded Connections

The nature of dental hygiene work is unique, and few outside of the profession truly grasp the intricacies and challenges dental hygienists confront daily. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and feeling misunderstood. However, connecting with like-minded individuals who share similar experiences can be a game-changer. Whether seeking advice on patient positioning, a challenging patient case, or navigating the intricacies of interpersonal relationships in the workplace, a supportive community provides a platform for shared insights and a sense of camaraderie.

Utilizing the Dental Hygiene Community for Growth

On a personal level, harnessing a sense of community transformed me personally and professionally. Within one year of practicing as a dental hygienist, I began experiencing acute and chronic work-related pain. For a long time, I ignored it, hoping it would go away. I didn’t have a community then, and because of that I felt stuck, alone, and like I had no resources. Years later, I began to build a community of like-minded dental professionals who became friends, mentors, colleagues, and mentees. I began to feel more confident, supported, and resourced. I felt like I wasn’t alone; I felt like I was on a mission with my community. This helped me become the best version of me that I could be–in and out of the op.

The role of this community extends beyond emotional support; it becomes a catalyst for professional development, confidence building, and industry growth. By actively participating in discussions, sharing experiences, and seeking advice, dental hygienists can leverage the collective wisdom of their peers to enhance their skills and navigate challenges more effectively.

Ways to Network in Dental Hygiene

Building a supportive network involves exploring various avenues for connections. Let’s review a few different ways where dental professionals can explore building community and connection.

Study Clubs: Dental Hygiene Study Clubs offer a structured platform for collaborative learning and mentorship, fostering a culture of shared knowledge. These clubs offer a place for dental hygienists to engage in meaningful discussions, share case studies, and benefit from the experiences of seasoned practitioners. The mentorship opportunities within Study Clubs contribute to the overall development and confidence building of dental hygienists.

Dental Conventions: Attending dental conventions and trade shows provides opportunities to expand one's professional network on a broader scale, connecting with industry leaders and peers alike. These events provide a broader platform to connect with professionals from diverse backgrounds, fostering a sense of community on a larger scale. Conventions that are specifically for dental hygienists, like RDH Under One Roof, provide ample opportunities for hygienists to build connections and grow in their careers.

Local Events: Local networking and continuing education events help enrich the possibilities for establishing meaningful connections within the dental hygiene community. Local events provide an additional avenue for establishing connections within one's geographical proximity, reinforcing the sense of a tightly-knit professional community.

Social Media: Social Media has revolutionized professional networking. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok all incorporate communities of dental professionals to connect with. Facebook Groups dedicated to dental hygiene serve as virtual forums where practitioners from diverse backgrounds can exchange ideas, seek advice, and share insights. Social Media platforms, especially Facebook Groups, offer the convenience of virtual networking, allowing practitioners to engage with the global dental hygiene community.

The power of a supportive network lies in its ability to help dental hygienists overcome professional challenges collectively. Whether addressing ergonomic concerns, advocating for improved working conditions, or sharing insights on patient care, collaboration within the community enhances the collective voice of dental hygienists. By navigating challenges together, practitioners contribute to positive change within the industry, ensuring a more supportive and expansive environment for practitioners, practices, and patients alike.

Paving a New Way Together

Building a supportive dental hygiene network cannot be overstated. The challenges faced by dental hygienists, both physical and emotional, necessitate a collective effort to foster well-being and professional growth. Community and connection serve as indispensable pillars, providing not only solace during challenging times but also acting as catalysts for transformative change. As practitioners actively engage and contribute to the community, they not only strengthen their well-being but also contribute to the thriving future of the dental hygiene profession. In a field where well-being is essential, the journey toward a supportive network is a step toward a fulfilling and sustainable career in dental hygiene.

References:

  1. Kumar M, Pai KM, Vineetha R. Occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders among dental professionals. Med Pharm Rep. 2020;93(4):405-409. doi:10.15386/mpr-1581
  2. Saccucci M, Zumbo G, Mercuri P, et al. Musculoskeletal disorders related to dental hygienist profession. Int J Dent Hyg. 2022;20(3):571-579. doi:10.1111/idh.12596
  3. Bercasio L, Rowe D, Yansane A. Factors Associated with Burnout among Dental Hygienists in California. Journal of Dental Hygiene. May 2020
  4. American Dental Association. 2021 Dentist Well-Being Survey Report. Updated February 1, 2022. Accessed October 2023. https://ebusiness.ada.org/Assets/docs/101863.pdf
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