Connecting Dental Health Professionals

The 4 Characteristics That Define The Excellent Dental Hygienist

March 29th, 2017 | By Dr. Marynak | Blog

By Dr. Deborah Marynak

I’m so glad you enjoyed the ‘Four Characteristics of an Awesome Dental Assistant’. I know you work hard and to say you’re our right arm is an understatement. I think it only fair to talk about your co-worker, the Dental Hygienist. I’m certain that to most people, the work they do appears easy; can I just say this is a long way from true.

When I received my license to practice Dental Hygiene back in 1976, I had one role: cleaning teeth. Today there are a number of various duties practiced by Dental Hygienists. As the demand for Dental providers has grown, it has become necessary to expand their role much the same way the Nurse Practitioner and Physician’s Assistant has done in medicine. So, aside from their various levels of participation in the Dental Office, here are my thoughts on ~

The Four Characteristics That Define the Excellent Dental Hygienist

1. Patient Education

The Dental Hygienist who can consistently provide education to their patients on a level they can use and understand would receive my vote for excellence. As a former Dental Hygienist, I can tell you that giving patient education day after day, and week after week is tedious, monotonous work. If an individual is not up for this redundant type of responsibility…and it is their responsibility…I don’t believe a level of excellence can be reached.

This means they ask the patient to demonstrate their use of a toothbrush and/or dental floss and modify where necessary. They do not verbally describe brushing or show the patient what they do. They watch the patient and modify their technique to assist them in improving their dental health.

I’m not sure why, but when I temp for various offices, I often hear the Hygienist talk about “massaging the gums”. I roll my eyes as I walk past their operatory asking myself “where are they getting this information?” It doesn’t have anything to do with massaging gums; it’s removal of bacteria…period. For much of the population: control the bacteria and you’ll control disease. It’s not brushing in circles; if you tell them that they’ll make circles as big as a quarter. It’s not anaerobic bacteria, its germs. It’s not periodontal disease, its gum disease. It’s not “you need to floss”; tell them why. If they won’t floss, recommend a Waterpik.

2. Continuous Improvement of Skills and Knowledge

The Dental Hygienist who works to consistently improve their clinical skills and increase their knowledge of Dental disease would receive my vote for excellence. I certainly did not graduate from Dental Hygiene School knowing how to effectively root plane or sharpen my instruments. Information regarding research in periodontology advances all the time. The excellent Hygienist continues to improve skills and increase their knowledge of Dental disease.

As the need for Dental Healthcare providers increases, the Dental Hygienists now have the opportunity to further educate themselves in several expanded functions including administration of anesthesia, prescription writing, and placing fillings.

3. Personable, Yet Professional

The Dental Hygienist who knows what she can, and more importantly, cannot discuss with the patient, would receive my vote of excellence. The focus of the appointment is on the patient and their dental needs; there is no discussion of the Hygienist’s personal problems.

4. A Team Player

The Dental Hygienist who is not above filling their own schedule, turning a room, helping in sterilization or filing/pulling charts has my vote for excellence. The Hygienist who can sit in the break room and read a magazine while everyone else is Mach ten with their hair on fire, is the antithesis of Team player. I once heard a Hygienist who was asked if he’d help the team catch up in sterilization. He responded with “I didn’t go to Dental Hygiene school to work in sterilization.” He’s no longer with the company!

I often hear Dental Assistants say they want to go into Dental Hygiene. The most prevalent reason I hear has to do with an increase in income. I’m all for ambition, but my response is always this: “First, don’t be fooled; cleaning teeth all day is hard, repetitive work. Then there’s the responsibility of continuously educating the patient. It can be redundant, and grueling. In knowing that, if you’re up for it, I commend you.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other,”
-Abraham Lincoln

This Isn’t Rocket Science

December 15th, 2016 | By Dr. Marynak | Blog

By Dr. Deborah Marynak

The Problem

After practicing dentistry for over 30 years now, I’ve concluded the dental profession has failed to properly educate the public on the problems associated with dental disease. While asking a dental patient why brushing and flossing is recommended, they most common response is “to get the stuff out.” When I ask them what “stuff”? The most common respond is “food”. Why is it, the average patient doesn’t understand the simple process of bacterial removal? Why doesn’t the average dental patient understand that the two most common diseases in the entire world are so simply preventable?

Case in point:

1) I was invited to a gathering under the guise of a social event for highly educated women. Once at the gathering it was made clear that the “gathering” was about selling vitamins manufactured in the “purest of pure processes.” These vitamins had super powers and would immeasurably improve your health. Further, you could also sell them to your friend and family.

So here I was, in this conversation with about eight other women on the topic of health and wellness and I tossed out the question: “when was the last time anyone here went to the dentist?” Laughter and joking ensued. Then I asked: “how often do you brush your teeth?” It got a little quieter, so I asked: “how often do you floss?” It got even quieter and the presenter of the vitamin pyramid made a sarcastic joke and said, “who flosses?”. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: you can’t fix stupid.

2) The next patient I recall begging the need to be educated presented to his New Patient Exam with severe respiratory difficulty and a diagnosis of asthma that caused him to experience pneumonia yearly when the weather turned cold; he was 26 years of age. This health issue was discussed thoroughly while reviewing his medical history and we then moved on to his clinical exam.

In my 30+ years of practicing as a General Dentist, I have never seen such a filthy mouth…ever! You seasoned professionals have seen this: red, swollen soft tissue with a complete loss of contour. It moves when you dry it and you can see large, black chunks of calculus under the soft tissue and it hemorrhages out of control on the slightest provocation. We know that respiratory disease can be exacerbated by oral anaerobes and yet we produce television commercials that state “your gums matter”. How about being clear:

  • “Mouth bacteria can interfere with medical conditions unless we keep it controlled by daily removal with a toothbrush, floss, waterpik and or other aids available at any drugstore.”

Or

  • “Teeth and gums are important because digestion begins in the mouth and when teeth are lost, it decreases our ability to properly chew our food.”

3) Another of my patients reported he had stomach problems. These problems caused him to eliminate all processed food; he grows all of his own vegetables, has his own grass fed beef, sheep and butchers his own chickens. He even manufactures his own soap as he wants no chemicals on his body. As I listened to him explaining the amount of work that’s involved in his endeavor for the greatest degree of health he can achieve, the conversation turned to oral health.

Unfortunately this patient occasionally brushes his teeth and doesn’t floss at all. He feels that he eats so well, there’s no need to brush or floss regularly. That’s when it really hit me: We Have Failed. How can an adult who has been to many dental appointments in his lifetime have completely missed any amount of education?

My Attempt to Educate: DentalHealthToday.com

In the time I’ve spent practicing Dental Hygiene and then becoming a Doctor of Dentistry, I’ve been passionate about educating patients. I’ve been so involved in patient education, I’d often hear my patients telling me I should write a book. I really couldn’t believe anyone would buy and read a book on Dental Health, so I did the next best thing. I developed a website to help educate the patient. We all get busy in our daily practice of Dentistry and too often we don’t take the time to fully educate our patients.

Go to dentalhealthtoday.com to see the site I’ve developed to help educate patients written on a level they can easily understand.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the World.”

– Nelson Mandela

Resources For Dental Professionals and Practices

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