Dimensions’ Brand Ambassador Susan Buchenberger, MEd, BSDH, RDH, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Comprehensive Oral Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry, shares advice for newly licensed hygienists.
The word grace came to mind when asked what advice I’d offer to dental hygiene grads. Hygienists are perfectionists. We are our own worst critics. We strive to be perfect, cleaning every spicule of calculus above and below the gumline. But, it is not easy. Teeth are rotated, missing, tilted, and surrounded with plaque or inflamed gum tissue that bleeds. The textbooks teach us how to use curets on typodonts that have perfect alignment. This is not the real world. Take it from me.
About 4 years ago, I was humbled as I was scheduled to remove a large chunk of calculus from the distal of #32. I used the ultrasonic scaler and hand instruments. I just knew it was gone and took an X-ray to show the patient. Well, the piece was smaller, but still there. So, I went at it again with both the ultrasonic and curets. I took another X-ray and it was still there. Finally, after three attempts, the deposit was completely gone. How great that I actually took the X-rays! Now, I demonstrate the technique I learned to remove that deposit to my students all the time. I was humbled. But then, I remembered wise words from a periodontist.
In 1988, I attended my very first continuing education meeting. It was led by a local periodontist. I was young and nervous as I thought his hygienists must be “Hygiene Gods.” They must be perfect. He told us how he trains his staff, giving them extracted teeth whose roots were wrapped in gauze. He has them scale the roots and then look to see what they missed. None of them were perfect. He then said something I will never forget. He said, “The only way to perfectly clean a tooth is to cut a flap, where you can see all the deposits to remove.” He validated how hard it is for us to be perfect. And, he assured us we were still preventing disease as regular recare appointments promote health. The gum tissue is healthier and there is less bleeding on probing, even when small deposits remain. He told us to give ourselves grace. Scale, check and recheck with an explorer to be perfect. But, remember you are still helping your patients, even if you are not removing every last bit of deposit.
So, please give yourself grace. I had days when I wanted to quit; times when I thought I must not be meant to be a hygienist. I think every dental hygienist has had days of self-doubt. But, please hang in there. Remember, you will not be perfect and that is okay. None of us seasoned hygienists had the skills we have now when we graduated. It just takes time. You have the knowledge. You know what to do. Do your best, and remember to extend grace to yourself.