The Next Chapter in your Dental Hygiene Career

There are many paths that a dental hygienist can follow in or out of the operatory. It’s about knowing the options available to you.

The Next Chapter in your Dental Hygiene Career. 

Remember when you were in dental hygiene school and you thought as soon as you graduated, things were going to be great? You would have your own operatory, your own patients, and oversee your own destiny. That’s right, no more instrument pass offs or multiple-choice exams for you. Freedom with a shiny Registered Dental Hygienist license all to yourself!

How about now? Do you have anxiety on Sunday evenings? Does the mere sight of your scrubs make your middle right scapula ache? Do you believe that one more conversation about the importance of flossing is going to send you past sanity’s edge? If any of these statements make you giggle but ring a little true, read on. Today we are going to explore the road to achieving self-actualization in your career if clinical hygiene care feels gloomy.

Getting Comfy with the Uncomfortable:

First, make no mistake that a change of any kind brings discomfort. Underestimating the time and work it takes to travel the learning curve of a new venture is a recipe for heartache, frustration, and more curse words than you typically speak. Ask me how I know.

The prickly learning curve can also be exhilarating and exciting! The opportunities are endless. May I request a small favor? Will you please be open to the idea that if lemons are your favorite thing, you can make a profitable and fulfilling career out of them?

Here is proof: Last night my husband and I were at a concert in our small town Idahome. The evening was warm, the sunset magnificent, and the music delightful. A darling yellow truck with “Lemon Smashers” adorned its side. The business proudly boasted an unending line of people excitedly buying $5+ lemonades. The team of 3 teenagers exhibited toothy grins as they took orders, smashed the lemons, and pumped out a myriad of flavored lemonades. Due to the geeky nature of the aforementioned couple, we mapped out an entire business plan. We estimated that upon recoupment of the initial investment ($20,000 for the trailer, supplies, legal documents, and licenses), the owners of the business could easily expect a $1500 production for a 2.5-hour event. If overhead was $500 per event, a $1000 profit would be easily attainable. How many of us make $1000 a day doing clinical hygiene? I have read the data, it is, essentially: no one. A 2.5-hour lemonade event appears to be highly lucrative and a viable option if lemons make you smile. Insert overused life comparison cliché.

Where is the Greenest Grass?

The first noteworthy idea to consider is that the grass is green where we water it. Perhaps you are feeling like you are done with clinical hygiene. Burnt out. Bags are packed. O-U-T out of there. Shall we blame the monotony, stress of the team, or lack of patient compliance? Or maybe all the above? I get you. I have a box for you to pack your things in.

But what if you could transform your clinical career? What if there was a way to delete the monotony, make your team feel like a functional family, and have your patients seek the care they need from you to finally get healthy? Good news! There is a way. I watch burnt out clinicians transform into enthusiastic masters of the operatory all the time. Instead of throwing in the towel, they reevaluate their approach to dental hygiene care and discover these 4 things:

Investing in leadership and teamwork is the catalyst to a new career within the same position.

Comprehensive assessment and care as a team with the patient, hygienist, and dentist working together is the key to achieving clinical excellence and fulfillment.

Dental hygiene care is fun (again)!

A break is as good as a change. I hear Mexico is nice this time of year.

When burnt out hygienists learn how to continue their work as clinical RDHs in a way that invigorates rather than exhausts the need to leave disappears. Spoiler alert: this was the first part of my journey out of the operatory. Most of career satisfaction lies within our perception of the situation. A solid place to start your journey to a new career is to water your clinical grass before hanging up your loupes and ultrasonic tips.

Fence Hopping:

Alright, you have modified your clinical life and that white picket fence is taunting you. It is time to make the jump. The first actionable step is to speak it out loud with as many people as you can. This includes looking in the mirror and having a candid conversation. In addition, talk to your family, friends, strangers, God, Allah, Buddha, and even Santa if the mood strikes you.

A journal with good old-fashioned paper and your favorite pen is also an excellent choice for this part of the exploratory process. List the aspects of clinical care you love and will miss. Write the names of your favorite patients you will have to say goodbye to. Then write down everything that exhausts you. Pen absolutely everything that frustrates you. Make specific notes of items in your current working situation you want to avoid like the plague.Be clear and specific on this pros and cons list. The last thing any of us need is to leave that dysfunctional relationship only to immediately replicate it. Once you have spoken and written your desire for a change, evaluated what to keep, and what to kick out, we can begin to find the perfect new venue.

Just One Example:

This seems like the logical time to share my journey out of the operatory. I love dental hygiene care with all my heart and will always seek clinical days to maintain my skill and passion in this arena. However, my operatory was not enough. As I suggested you do, I talked to myself and anyone that would listen and wrote the pros and cons list. “Yes, I wanted to stay in dentistry. No, I didn’t want to sell products. Yes, I have picked up some incredibly useful tools along my way. No, I am not handy with technology. I want to find a way to help others thrive like I have in the last few years.” And so on.

When I left the operatory, I left my dream job. My patients were my people, and I loved my coworkers like family. As I explored my options, I realized that the lessons I had been given were meant to share.

I landed on consulting as my new profession. While Hooker’s Hygiene was sure to garner lots of laughs, I created and opened Stellar Outcomes in September of 2014. To get hired as a consultant, I needed to show competence. My best idea was to teach a CE course. One time doing that and then suddenly the public speaking side of Stellar Outcomes was born. Since then, the twist, turns, and remodeling that has happened has been endless. This really works for me. It is a lot of uncertainty and risk taking. On the flipside, the life of a public speaker and consultant is fulfilling to me. I am constantly gaining new information and skills while deleting those that no longer serve our profession. Coaching and teaching will afford you the ability to serve our patients, providers, practices, and profession in a most profound way. Whew! I do love a great alliteration. Luckily, there are several organizations that specialize in helping new coaches and speakers create and launch a business if you choose this path.

Pass On That:

Do speaking and coaching not sound good to you? No problem, let’s think on this for a minute: how many of our patients have breathing, swallowing, sleeping, and speaking disorders? Unfortunately, more than most of us realize.

There is a tremendous gap in the orofacial myofunctional health in our population and as dental hygienists, we are in prime position to help. The simple skill of comfortably breathing through one’s nose is a cornerstone to human health. Properly oxygenating, humidifying, and cleaning the air that we breath is necessary for the healthy functioning of every system our bodies partake in. The more I learn about this arena, the more I see that there is a desperate need for more myofunctional therapists nationwide. Small children all the way up through the elderly need this service. If, as I have introduced this topic, a fire has ignited in your belly, it is time to reach out to one of your dental hygienist friends that has taken this leap and became certified as a myofunctional therapist. The International Association of Orofacial Myology offers the official path to certification. Many states do not require dental hygienists to seek this certification to practice as our scope of practice language already supports us performing these services.

On a personal note, my daughter is currently finishing care with a fellow RDH gone Myofunctional therapist and it has changed her life. Her allergies, sleep, headaches, breathing, and energy have all improved profoundly in a few short appointments with our myofunctional therapist. Imagine being a member on the team that helps humans overcome their incurable ailments. Those are odds we could all be proud to defy!

I Love Sales and Travel Sounds Super Fun:

Maybe you do not want to engage patients any longer. What company’s products cause you glee? Could it be ultrasonic tips that excite you like a first kiss? Do composite restoration supplies bring a sparkle to your eye?

Then, it is time to search out the dental product company you love most. Dental supply companies adore clinical representatives because they know. A non-clinical salesperson reads a script to indicate they know exactly what it’s like to get under a radiographic piece of deposit that has been lodged on the distal of #14 since the 1st episode of Friends aired in 1994. They really have no idea. But you do! You might find that ensuring other clinicians have the best armamentarium to have great days and provide excellent clinical care is your jam. This is exciting because you do not have to open your own business, obtain another degree, or finance the travel involved. You get to make a positive impact on our profession while meeting other clinicians from all over. Groovy baby.

I Wish Someone Taught Me That in School:

Did you love or hate school? Either emotion can be a motivator to become an educator. If you are excited to teach clinically, the education you have right now will do! If the didactic side of university tickles your toes, you may need to consider an advanced degree. The degree does not have to be in dental hygiene unless you desire it. Might I encourage you to chat with people that have advanced degrees and find the one that suits your passion best?

Here are some highlights of an educator: you get to help shape the future of dental hygiene, there are consistent salary and benefits, and there is a continual connection to the next generation of dental hygienist dreams. This is a great choice to help “move the needle” in our profession towards bright blue skies for future generations.

The Mouth is Not Enough, and a Little More School Sounds Alright:

Like becoming a myofunctional therapist, we have the prerequisites to apply to physician’s assisting school and dive deeper into the rest of the body systems. This is an excellent option for those of you who love health care and feel that the ceiling of dental hygiene care is holding you back. Physician’s assistants enjoy the option to specialize in every system of the human body and the demand for quality practitioners is endless no matter the geographic location.

This profession allows for a greater amount of practitioner autonomy and a substantial pay increase from dental hygiene. There are many programs designed to pay for your education if you are willing to work in an underserved clinic for a short amount of time. Imagine how great it would be for you to be able to bridge the gap between oral and overall health given the combination of your experience and education!

Lightbulbs and Exploration:

Whether you decide to reinvent your clinical career or venture out of the operatory, choose a passion project. The passion is what you need to overcome the fear of change and to keep you moving forward when the path becomes challenging. On the other side of that fear and challenge, is freedom. Freedom to live your best life and contribute your greatest impact. I applaud your dental hygiene career and celebrate the position you are in to move on to your next and best chapter yet. Cheers to you and your next venture in or out of the operatory!

Leave a Comment