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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?


Image of a woman pointing and yelling

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.

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.    

Blaming nonmembers

Another version of this blame game often plays out in organized groups. Membership recruitment, retention and participation, volunteer management and fundraising are necessary elements for the survival of voluntary organizations. Falling membership dues and stagnant membership numbers continue to be of concern whether it’s a church, union or dental hygiene group. Once again, it must be the fault of nonmembers. Don’t they feel any loyalty to contribute to the professional organization? The answer for many is no.

Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history, as was pointed out by Pew Research Center’s Millennials in Adulthood survey. They come from so many backgrounds and have different upbringings than previous generations. What appeals to them is often very different yet rather than shift thinking, often dental hygiene groups just do more of the same and see those who aren’t participating as apathetic, noncaring people just out for the money. This couldn’t be more wrong. Once again, blaming the victim is evident. The biggest blunder occurs when associations blindly accept what they were doing, offering and even that which brought the most success in the past is no longer working.

It isn’t just millennials who are no longer interested in association membership. Gen X and Baby Boomers are just saying no, too. If associations don’t become the answer for multigenerational membership, then extinction is imminent.

3 simple ways to change the game

The big picture is the answer, and then change, adapt and innovate. Membership is not a duty; it can be seen and experienced as a joy and what someone wants. Organizations need to accurately determine the needs of those they serve and then brainstorm creative ways to meet them. There isn’t a one-size-fit all for your patients nor is there one solution that will appeal to everyone to participate in an organization-diversity is the name of the game.

1. Social media influences all. An associations needs to have a social media presence. This is not limited to Facebook and Twitter; Instagram, Tumblr and a whole host of other social media platforms are available to engage potential members. Who can you find to help manage it? Millennials and those who behave as Modern Millennial Hygienists.

2. Encourage leadership by stepping away. Often, leaders don’t know when it is time to step down. No matter how creative or innovative, leadership is tiring, which can lead to tired ideas and a lack of energy and enthusiasm. It can be experienced when the leader's attitude says, "been there, done that." New leaders can’t step up unless previous leaders step down.

 3. Make engagement personal. We live in a digital world, as you are experiencing reading this article. In the digital realm, engagement needs to become personal. This means sending out interactive newsletters, emails and social media posts regarding your organization’s progress so you can get real-time feedback from both members and, more importantly, nonmembers. Do this not once a year but routinely.

The only person you can change

One of life’s hardest lessons to learn is that you can only change yourself. Some people spend inordinate amounts of time and energy upset, angry or frustrated by other people’s thoughts and behaviors and blame the victims. Save yourself some frustration and try to learn to stop trying to change others. Focus instead on looking at yourself and your contribution to the outcome, and you may find yourself living a happier and more peaceful life.

What do you think? Did we make you crazy once again? If so, we are doing our job. Your thoughts, contributions and disagreements are important to success. Please share your thoughts below.

Listen to a podcast on this topic below:

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