One time when I first graduated from dental hygiene school my sweet grandma introduced me to her friends saying that I was one of those…. “tooth pickers.” Then she made little tooth picking motions with her hands, and her and her little friends laughed. It was all in jest at the time, but I feel like we get this in our profession A LOT! Oh yes, you will be called a dental hygeeeenist, be asked if you went to school for this, be told from your patient that their daughter is one of these, but they really are a dental assistant. You may hear, “Can’t you just clean my teeth? It isn’t that hard, is it?” I therefore would like to stand on my soap box for just a moment and shout out to the world just a FEW of the things I have to know/do as a dental hygienist.
The upper lip fuses at just 6 week when you are about 2-5mm in height.
There are about 500 abnormalities of the mouth and teeth that I had to memorize, recognize and know how to detect during an oral cancer screening.
There is a science to where I sit to work on you, how I hold the instruments, and the clothes I wear.
I have to know about film development and all the parts of the x-ray unit. Don’t get me started on the electron, protons, the tungsten target, or how to increase or decrease the kvp and my tube head angles to get a beautiful x-ray of your teeth.
I had to know all of the nerves, blood vessels and muscles of the face so that I can get your need numb when you have an infection in your gums that you think I created.
I risk my life every day from potentially being exposed to diseases you may transfer to me or that may be caused by the repetitive motions that I have to do while working on you.
I had to take a national written board that is 8 hours that cost around $300.
I took special courses on how to treat children and geriatric patients, along with the oral health of the community.
I have to learn how to do and read research so that I can interpret it and better treat you. The p-vales, mean, median, modes, hypothesis and summary are our friends, or our enemy such as in the latest fiasco in the flossing debate!
I took several semesters of a class we call Perio, where I learned the names of hundreds, of the millions of bacteria in your mouth. Such as: Porphyromonas gingivalis, Streptococcus mutan , Granulicatella elegans, Neisseria subflava, S. sanguinis, S. gordonii, and Rothia dentocariosa and my favorite, Adiacens actinomyces, just to name a few.
I also had to take 1-2 clinical boards where I must find a patient with heavy chunks of black calculus that will flip up into my hair and clog my suction for the 2 hour allotted time.
I will have to find about 120 of my own patients, for 3 hour appointments, to learn on including kids, adolescents, geriatric, healthy and periodontally involved patients. So that when I graduate I can do everything in a 30-60 minute appointment.
Wow, my list can go on and on. So next time you show up to get a check up and preventive cleaning from your dental hygienist, please educate yourself, be respectful, and remember that we are educated and licensed professionals. Okay, I will step down now:)