Career, Advice

5 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier in My Hygiene Career

By Jamie Collins, RDH on August, 12 2019
Jamie Collins, RDH

Jamie has been in the dental field for nearly 20 years, both as an assistant and hygienist. In addition to clinical practice, she is also an educator, speaker, and has contributed to multiple textbooks and curriculum development in addition to be a frequently published author.

You never know what you don’t know … until you do. 

Twenty years ago, I started my young and fresh-faced career thinking that everything was about the patient, no. matter. what. But I’ve since learned that you also have to do what’s right for you as a clinician.

Back then, I had a very different idea of what mattered most in my dental hygiene career. Here are a few things I wish I knew then.

1. It’s OK to ask your patient to move and tilt to adjust for visibility.

They don’t mind, really.

This hit home a few weeks after I started working at a new office. The doctor said some patients noted that they had never been asked to turn their head during a procedure. It wasn’t a complaint, just an observation. In this day and age, when ergonomics is so widely taught, that kind of surprised me.

As a new hygienist, I might have contorted and twisted myself just to get a better visual, and later complained about back and neck pain. It’s OK to ask the patient to adjust to you. Your body will thank you later.

2. You don’t have to stay in a job if you’re miserable.

Different dental offices have different philosophies and different dynamics. Don’t let one office ruin your happiness. Just like relationships, sometimes jobs run their course and are just a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

I’ve worked with some great offices and some not-so-great offices. It’s OK to leave and change scenery. Dental offices are small, intimate environments, so you need to enjoy it.

3. Invest in yourself

Even if the doctor won’t purchase the essentials for good ergonomic standards, invest in yourself to preserve your body and career for the long run. 

Key elements are loupes with a personal light. If you don’t have them, go invest in a good pair! Also, get yourself an ergonomic seat, such as a saddle stool. It makes a world of difference for the back and hips. A cordless handpiece can go anywhere with you and the eliminate cord drag on the wrist. 

Practice good posture as often as possible and be aware of your body telling you when it needs a break. 

If you’re using dull instruments and have no time to sharpen, then invest in sharpen-free instruments to eliminate the need. Sharp instruments = less hand/wrist fatigue and less strain on the body. 

When the aches and pains were too much, I would see a chiropractor or massage therapist to release the tightness, but only when I couldn’t stand it anymore. We deal in a profession of prevention, but I failed to take preventive measures when it came to my own musculoskeletal health for many years. 

Changing my plan to have either an adjustment or massage every two weeks kept the aches and pains of dentistry to a minimum. Prevention is key!

4. Practice self-care

We spend so much time and effort to ensure the care of others, whether it be family, patients or friends, and so often we sweep our own stress under the rug. Take a time-out and do something relaxing, whether it’s coffee with a friend or a bubble bath and a glass of wine undisturbed by anyone else.

Maybe just talking to a friend makes all the difference in life. It’s OK to have ME time occasionally, and it makes you a better person overall.

5. Be Social

Take part in the local, regional and national meetings and study groups. Many of my best friends near and far are involved in the dental world somehow. Being able to laugh and learn with others is good for the spirit and mind.

I’ve been fortunate to have found mentors early in my career who gave me great advice when I needed it, and I’ve been able to return the favor to new hygienists later in my career. Meet, network and learn with others. It’s a great way to discover new products, events and opportunities for employment.

The older me sees the younger me and says “what a ride it’s been!” There are 20 years behind me of learning the hard way what not to do, followed by making it the best it can be.

Dental hygiene is a great field, and I still love working clinically and intend to do so for many more years by changing the way I practice daily and enjoying the great professionals I surround myself with.

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