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Why Did You Become a Dental Hygienist?

Article

A registered dental hygienist shares her perspective on why she became an RDH and why she feels enriched and empowered by the career.

Why Did You Become a Dental Hygienist? Photo courtesy of WavebreakmediaMicro/stock.adobe.com.

Why Did You Become a Dental Hygienist? Photo courtesy of WavebreakmediaMicro/stock.adobe.com.

We all have a story about why we became dental hygienists, and sometimes we need to remember that “why.” What if someone asked you why you became a dental professional? What story do you tell?

Here’s Nicole’s story:

My mom was a young single mom when she had me, and she did an excellent job raising me. We did not have dental insurance and did the best we could to take care of our teeth. Going to the dentist only happened when there was a pain issue, because it cost so much. My mom tried her best encouraging me to take care of my teeth as best I could with flossing and brushing. There is no surprise that I became a dental hygienist. I wanted to help people like us. And, I have done so. It is my personal goal to educate patients and the public on what can be done to keep their teeth.

My career began as a dental assistant for 8 years. During that time, I would watch the patients and hygienists’ interactions. The hygienists helped patients feel better about their appearance by getting the dental care that they needed. Whether it was doing work on their front teeth to help them feel better about their smile or teaching them good dental hygiene practices, it was so rewarding to be a part of the solution. I understand how some patients are so afraid to come to the dentist. I’ve been there, which is why dental hygiene became a calling for me.

My dental assisting instructor in high school inspired me to become a hygienist. She was a hygienist teaching our program. My goal was to explore the dental field and see if it was for me. And it was.

The first dentist I worked with treated me as part of her family. She gave me a lot of freedom to answer phones at another location, be a presence in the office, and study while I was on the job. I really benefitted especially as I was studying anatomy and physiology. Even though I immensely enjoyed being an assistant, I wanted more one-to-one time with patients as I am a people person. They came in with stained teeth, but we removed some of the stain which mimics teeth whitening. It really was rewarding to see how something that is cosmetic but also good for your health can make a patient so happy with the results.

Becoming a dental hygienist has been an incredible journey for me. The support I have received from the dentists has been stunning. They even gave me the flexibility to work part time when my kids were young and then for me to return to full time when I wanted to.

What I enjoy about my work is that I bring my own music into the office to help the patients to relax. I chuckle when I see how some patients are humming along. This is very relaxing to both of us. It is moments like that that remind me how much I love my job!

I try to positively encourage those who are interested in going into this field. I pride myself on always answering questions and helping people shadow me in the office to see if this is the field for them.

We all have one special story about a patient that really impacted our life. My patient, Mary, came in for a cleaning. We do oral cancer screenings as part of our service. I was holding the tip of Mary’s tongue with gauze and noticed something solid on her tongue that was firm and not moving. The doctor came in and referred her to a specialist. She came back several months later and could barely talk. Part of her tongue had been removed. She was so grateful to us for saving her life, and we were all in tears. This was a very emotional moment where I was so humbled by the experience. She was learning to speak again and coping so well. This experience reminds me why I am a dental hygienist.

My message to new graduates is to do everything you learned while in school and have confidence in what you are feeling and seeing. You are the first set of hands and eyes that might be identifying the problem. Speak up. Let the doctor know your concerns. You are a dental professional who can save lives.

I share Nicole’s story as her career has grown. She is celebrating 19 years as a RDH and teaches part time at the local community college. At work, she is respected as a lead in her office, but most important, she believes in herself. She has learned that she is quite capable of making a difference in her patients’ lives and that is the message she would like to share. Believe in yourselves! Keep learning because you will use it! And remember to lead from the heart and others will follow you.

Email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com and share your story of why you went into this field.

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