Top 5 checklist for a dental hygienist to do before becoming disabled

The practice of dental hygiene wreaks havoc on the body. Although many ergonomic improvements for safely practicing clinical hygiene are available, most of us do not make it to retirement age working chairside, even part time. Do you have a plan, should you become disabled?

The practice of dental hygiene wreaks havoc on the body. Although many ergonomic improvements for safely practicing clinical hygiene are available, most of us do not make it to retirement age working chairside, even part time. Do you have a plan, should you become disabled? Read on for tips to sustain your clinical career while planning your exit strategy.

  • Consider the blunt truth. Apply for disability insurance before you graduate from hygiene school. If that date has long passed, consider having a close friend, spouse or loved one who knows how your body is responding to the practice of clinical hygiene give you a sincere evaluation. Ask your confidant how often you complain of neck, shoulder or hand pain at the end of the day. Have you consulted a physician or been to the chiropractor or massage therapist in recent years? Important blunt truth: If it has been documented by a physician or other licensed healthcare provider that you are complaining of muscular skeletal pain, it may be too late to be approved for disability!

  • Don’t wait to take care of you. Commit to taking care of your body NOW. Later is too late. Consider yoga, strength training, flexibility stretches and swimming. You need to be healthy, comfortable and energetic for all phases of your career.

Related link: Career-ending ergonomic no-no's

  • Are you a chameleon? Consider other roles within dentistry, healthcare or other fields that interest you and start your research NOW.  Consider your skills beyond clinical dental hygiene. The duties you perform every day (patient management, education, planning, cooperation within a team, computer literacy, inter/intra professional collaboration) are transferable to other career choices.

  • Hitch your wagon to a star. Find a mentor in the field of dental hygiene to keep you focused, or enlist a mentor in an alternative area or field. Reach out to a potential mentor through email if you do not know one personally. Or, consider a life coach. When it comes to a life or career change, the guidance and support a life coach can provide is worth it. They will help you set personal and professional goals to help you get “unstuck.”  

  • Volunteer to succeed. Get involved in your local component or a study group. Pursue a leadership role and or seek a niche that has not yet been filled. Most hygiene components are desperate for help and fresh ideas. Participating as a wallflower might keep you in your comfort zone, but it will not stretch you personally Contacts and networking opportunities blossom when you become an engaged partner.

Related link: How to protect your most important asset -- you

 Let your imagination and professional skills wander; shadow a surgical assistant; see what a dedicated hygiene assistant really can do to raise the standard of care for patients.

Volunteering within your field may help you remain in dentistry but step away from direct instrumentation. Examples include being a restorative case manager, implant coordinator or external marketing liaison for your practice. Be creative and do not be afraid. See where your skill sets can take you next.