Memoirs of a 30 Year Career in Dental Hygiene… How Have I Grown in 30 Years?

I can't believe that I graduated with a degree in Dental Hygiene at the young age of 21 on May 23, 1985!

What is even more remarkable is that I have been practicing in a profession that I love for over 30 years!
Statistically, most hygienists will leave their profession within less than 8 years often due to career dissatisfaction, burnout or they choose an even more nobler profession of raising a family.  Current statistics share that most dental hygienists remain in a practice for no more than 3 years.  If you want to know more specific reasons why this is true, please read my Blog entitled: “Is the Grass Always Greener?”
As you all may already know, I have been privileged to work at Stephens/Gatewood & Associates for over 26 years!  I am so thankful that we are allowed to take care of our patients with a high standard of care!
My Blog, entitled: 25th Anniversary Celebration, will offer more insight about how much we care for our amazing patients!
I am forever thankful for the education I received at North Central Technical College (NCTC) in Wausau, Wisconsin.  It was the newest program in the state.  I was in their 3rd graduating class.  What makes NCTC Dental Hygiene program so remarkable is that they patterned their comprehensive curriculum after Marquette University Dental Hygiene program.  The differences were that the program offered at NCTC was completed at an accelerated rate and at a fraction of the cost.  That is why I chose to attend NCTC.  
As a result of my challenging curriculum, I possessed I strong foundation and confidence moving forward in my new career.
I will share that finding a permanent, quality forever dental home wasn't easy.  One of my first employment opportunities was in a very small practice in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  This particular dentist chose to practice is a manner that did not fit my high standards.  So it wasn't long before I was seeking for another opportunity.  I was fortunate enough to be a part of Riverhill Dental Associates in Wisconsin Rapids, WI. I was so blessed to work with Dr. O'Connor.  I will always admire his ethics and his high standard of care. Riverhill would more than likely have been my forever home but we decided to move to Houston, Texas for employment opportunities for my husband.  Once again, I worked for a unethical dentist and eventually worked as a temporary dental hygienist continually seeking out my forever home. After 6 months, I was convinced that the entire city of Houston lacked quality, kind, caring, ethical dentists.  I was ready to move back to Wisconsin Rapids! Then I found Dr. Stephens…. I'll never forget my initial impression of him.  He and I shared a strong ethic and a strong philosophy on how to take care of patients.  I knew this was the place for me! The rest is history….
The knowledge that I gained from working for mediocre dentists is that one gains a higher appreciation for the incredible dentists that do indeed exist!
What I am most proud of is my ability to adapt to change.  I can say that the way I take care of patients is completely different than how I took care of patients 30 years ago.  The strong foundation I learned is still intact.  I still assess every patient's gum tissue at every appointment. As we have learned, one's gingival (gum) health can change in less than 3 months! The oral cavity is organic; always changing.  After 30 years, I still use a calculas explorer. (Which is an instrument we use to detect for tartar deposits below the gumline.) I still don't possess x-ray vision so this is a wonderful instrument for me to utilize so I have the assurance that I have removed the buildup underneath the gum tissue.  All of our hygienists in our practice use this essential instrument! What I love most about working at Stephens/Gatewood and Associates is that our doctors believe and invest in the latest up-to-date technology.  I love that we can use our laser technology to disinfect diseased gum pockets for our patients. In fact, very soon we are so excited that we will receive hands-on training and learn all about Air Polishing in addition to re-introducing to our team the updated Piezo technology! (That's a topic for my next Blog!  I can't wait to share that with all of you!) 
I love that we all commit to updating our education. For example, as a result of the information we learned at our recent seminar, we have now implemented and are offering Xylitol products which is a terrific solution for our patients who suffer with Xerostomia (Dry Mouth).  With a continual commitment and a drive to seek current information, I treat periodontal disease with a combination of current and traditional techniques in conjunction with up-to-date technology. I am happy to share that the results have been phenomenal for our patients! 
How I communicate with patients is also completely different from the way I use to 30 years ago.  I will admit that I was guilty of minimizing my patient's periodontal disease.  I use to say something like, “Mr. Jones you have a little bleeding between your lower right molars.”  Now I say, “Mr. Jones, you have an active infection between your lower right molars.”  The change of semantics created a stronger reaction with the latter statement with my patients!  I also noticed that they became more interested in suggestions to eliminate the gum infection in their mouth.  The way I educate is different as a result of simply changing semantics.
I learned to speak with truth and conviction and communicate in a way to tailor my language for each and every patient.  If I am being completely honest, the most challenging part of my job is to seek out my patient's “Hot Button”.  The “Hot Button” is the one thing that will motivate my patient's to assume ownership of their mouths.  Our patient's deserve the absolute truth.  They deserve to hear the truth in a kind and caring way to motivate them to move forward with recommendations to eliminate pain and infection from their mouths.
I can't tell you how many new patients arrive at our practice with infection in their mouths.  Some share with me that they are aware of the infection and that their former dentist is, “watching their infection”.
30 years of experience tells me that those dentists who choose to practice dentistry that way will “watch” their patient's infection get worse before they even offer any solutions.  I love that we choose to be proactive in addressing our patient's periodontal/gum infection at its' inception rather than take a non-reactive approach.  It's all about honest and true communication!  My patient's depend on me.  They trust me.  They trust that I have their very best interests, always.  Communication is so critical yet it is challenging.
I believe I will spend the rest of my career fine tuning the art of communication.
I have a unique honor of also learning the business side of dental hygiene.  I am so proud of my team!  My team is committed and dedicated to taking care of our patients at an exceptional level.  Quality of care is our top priority!  As a result, of that commitment our practice is continually growing!  It is exciting for me to be a first-hand witness to such amazing growth while adhering to a simple philosophy.
We are committed to our practice's mantra: “Dentistry with a Difference!”
I believe that 30 years ago I was a very good hygienist.  I possessed a strong foundation but I learned that there was room for tremendous growth.  30 years later I believe that an accumulation of knowledge, experience, trials and tribulations, a willingness to be open to change, to seek opportunities for change, a drive to be the best, a strong passion for dentistry, a genuine heart to take care of people is why I still love doing what I do!  I possess the confidence to say that I know that I practice the art of dental hygiene at an exceptional level today and I will always strive to be better than I did the year before.  
In my profession the greatest gifts and rewards I have ever received are from my colleagues and from my most beloved patients.  They have shared with me over these 30 years such wonderful compliments, they offered constructive criticism and encouragement, I experienced their trust and I have been blessed with most special, precious gift ever given to me – LOVE.  I am so very honored and humbled.  It has been an amazing 30 year journey and I look forward to continually changing and evolving to always give my absolute best.