The struggles of completing your dental hygiene academic career, passing your boards, and getting your license are real! So real that you may look back and wonder, “How the heck did I do that!?” When you let your overactive brain matter start to relax as you put dental hygiene school in the review, a new stressor takes its place, the real dental world.
Many dental hygiene clinicians will agree that academia prepares you for patient care, but does not adequately prepare them for clinical dental hygiene in the real world of dentistry. Transitioning from a three-hour appointment to a one-hour appointment alone is a tremendous time modification. Furthermore, many new dental hygienists’ first dental practice experience is as a newly licensed dental hygienist. Navigating this new landscape can cause fear, confusion, and doubt. Here are five essential tips for new dental hygienists to know their worth and help transition into their new dental world.
What to know before you go
Before you go on your first interview, decide what kind of dental hygienist you want to be. The niche that you choose to work in will likely dictate how you practice. Access to equipment, technologies, and protocols will differ significantly depending on the type of practice you work in; consider this while interviewing. Your outlook as a new hygienist will most certainly change and evolve as you grow in your professional career, but setting a standard from a starting point is a way for you to monitor and measure your professional development.
Going on an interview or interviewing the office
You can and should interview the practice as much as they interview you. Ask to see the dental hygiene schedule, the operatory you would be working in, the instruments, and the sterilization area. You will learn about the practice’s methodologies, procedures, and protocols from these inquisitions. You then have the opportunity to inquire about life-saving protocols such as blood pressure and oral cancer screenings to ensure that the dental practice will align with how you practice dental hygiene. If it does not seem to be a match, do not settle—keep interviewing until you find a good fit. Often working through a temp agency is a good way to get exposure to different offices to see if you may or may not be a good fit for a practice.
Share your knowledge
Upon graduation, new clinicians have up to date knowledge of the practice of dental hygiene. Dentistry is so vast and always changing that dentists must often stay focused on advances pertaining to the restorative segment of the practice and the business side of dentistry. They may not be aware of some of the advancements in prophylaxis and periodontal therapies that improve patient care and outcomes. Before requesting new equipment, procedure or technology for consideration, do your research, connect with a fellow professional who is already using the technology, and schedule time to discuss how this will benefit the hygiene department and dental practice with the dentist and business team leader. Come to the meeting with the information and protocols on how to implement your suggestion into the practice.
Find a mentor
Mentors are essential to your clinical growth and development, a sounding board for ethical dilemmas, and vital in providing you with a support system as you navigate your new profession. A mentor can help propel your clinical skills forward and stretch you beyond what you thought was possible for yourself and your professional career. As new clinicians, we are at the bare minimum skill of safe practice; we have much work to do to become proficient, which will come with time, repetition, and experience. A mentor is vital to your progression and bridging your didactic knowledge and clinical application.
As much as you feel like you need a brain break after graduation, be sure to keep learning. Scientific and medical discoveries have had a positive impact on dentistry. This growing base of knowledge declares our profession’s services essential to our patients’ overall health. Often we must look beyond dentistry for this knowledge, therefore it is not always presented to us during our educational career. Many medical professionals have discovered the impact that preventive and therapeutic dental hygiene services provide our patients and have recommended patients to seek out dental professionals aligned with discovering the root cause of disease. This area of dentistry can be exciting and demonstrates how impactful our care is in systemic disease prevention. An excellent example and resource for this information is the Bale-Doneen Method. Practicing dental hygiene in this manner can be rewarding as you help transform your patients’ health and lives in a meaningful way.
These five suggestions can help you manage your new role as a dental hygienist in the real world of dentistry. Always remember how hard you worked to get licensed, and value your education and knowledge. Follow your heart, ethics, and professional judgement in your decision-making processes, and be sure to protect those three letters that you proudly display at the end of your name.
Melissa A Obrotka, BA, RDH, ICP, holds over 25 years of experience in the dental field and specialized clinical experience with the dental implant patient population. Melissa’s core objectives for patient care is focused on a “Wholestic” approach dental prevention encompassing total body health and wellness. Obrotka is a dental hygiene motivator, confidence coach, influencer, and industry thought leader. In addition, Obrotka is a clinical adjunct professor at her alma mater, Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. In 2016, Obrotka was nationally recognized as a Master Clinician Award for outstanding clinical expertise in relating interdependence of clinical practice and patient education and in 2017 named one of the, “Six Dental Hygienists You Want to Know’’ by Dimensions of Dental Hygiene.
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