January 22, 2021
by Dezarae Aldridge-Earl, RDH
You are a dental hygienist. You went to school, you graduated, wrote the national board exam, found yourself a job and now you scale likely somewhere between 160 to 256 teeth each day, four days a week or upwards of 60,000 teeth per year.
You have been at the same clinic for a few years now and even though you love the relationships you have with your clients, you ask yourself, “is this all there is?” You want more out of your career. You feel a sense of boredom while at the clinic. Each day mostly is the same. Deep down, you feel the sense of belonging in dentistry, so you know you are not going back to school. Besides, you have young kids at home, and you might even still have student debt you are paying back. You also know it would really be hard to replace the income working as a dental hygienist. You have previously thought about a nursing career but know you would not love the work hours required. You conclude and know in your heart, you do not want to leave dentistry, so what do you do?
If you roll the clock back to late 2015 and early 2016, these were my exact thoughts too. I understand what it feels like to feel like you have plateaued in your career. I have likely lived in some of your shoes, where you felt inferior to the other hygienists and never felt important or truly valued as a team member even after putting in 110% of yourself. Maybe you dreaded going to work because you knew what you said or did not say to clients would be critiqued. The words you used, or “how” they were said, would be broken down and reviewed. Maybe your monthly production would not be enough. Or maybe the amount of booked doctor treatment coming from your chair was not enough. Perhaps a day comes where you go to work one day and at the end of your shift you are told you are no longer welcome back. The next morning you wake up, hoping that it was all just a dream. Hoping that you still had a job to go to, even though the past year has brought many days and weeks of stress to your life.
I have been there, and I understand your frustrations. I have felt your pain and extreme sadness. Through my own experiences, I have learned that our success, both personal and professionally, mainly comes from our own perspective on our current life. Perspectives through our past life experiences, lessons learned and how we overcome challenging hurdles life throws at us.
Life is a journey, and we are designed to grow, and flourish. I believe we should always strive towards living our best life and reaching our full potential. What that looks like will look different for each of us. We need to be willing to grow through the hard times, also known as our failures. Sometimes, our greatest potential lives on the other side of our greatest failures. There is a greater plan for each of us, we just need to be willing to accept it and open to learn from it.
If you feel stuck or frustrated in your current professional career, maybe that is a sign that something needs to shift in your life. Maybe it has nothing to do with your career and it is something going on in your personal life. Maybe it is time for a change in your coworkers or boss. Maybe you need to push yourself to learn a new skill like Ortho or Myofuncational Therapy. Or maybe you even want to consider going back to school. For some, that new choice may be considering Independent Dental Hygiene practice. The options are endless. But it is YOUR responsibility to figure it out. No one else can do this for you. No one else can make you happy. You owe it to yourself to live your best life. Why settle for anything less? Your coworkers deserve your best. Your clients deserve the best you have to give. YOU deserve your best. Choose to be your best self, whatever that may look like. Making this choice every morning you wake up, may spark a new you next week, next month and may eventually lead you to your greatest destination.
Do not let hard decisions and fears paralyze you into standing still and moving nowhere. I personally understand what it means to make hard choices and can tell you that even though the journey will be full of ups and downs, the destination is worth every hardship you will encounter. Who you will become in the process, is worth every minute of the ride.
Personally, since I found myself unemployed nearly 5 years ago and my career has changed drastically. Previously, I found myself thinking about my role as a dental hygienist as a “job.” Sadly, I believe many other hygienists likely would say the same, they have a “job.” Since becoming an Independent Dental Hygienist and practice owner 4 years ago, I have learned that I have a greater purpose in our community of dentistry. A greater purpose in my community to help others through both dentistry and by giving back. I also hope that I can be a voice to spark change. What I hope to spark inside of you, is to look at the opportunity you have been given as a dental hygienist. The opportunity to improve the lives of so many individuals in your community. Many of whom do not regularly see a doctor. We as dental hygienists have the opportunity to not only save teeth, but to SAVE LIVES. We can look inside people’s mouths and identify warning signs and buy back time for our clients. We can give them the gift of health. We can warn our clients that their heart may be working way too hard by screening our clients blood pressure regularly, potentially giving them more time with their loved ones. We can warn our clients when we suspect oral cancer. We can help identify nutritional deficiencies, be an ear for someone with an eating disorder, improve self esteem, and provide opportunities for our clients to finally choose to quit smoking. We can learn more about airway health to help screen and identify the thousands of Canadians that potentially have undiagnosed sleep apnea. It is thought that as many as 90 per cent of people who have obstructive sleep apnea do not know that they have it. It is our role as primary healthcare providers to do our part in providing a better quality of life to those we treat.
I challenge you next time that you get down on yourself or get frustrated with your current situation, to make a change. Choose to be better. Choose to do better. And choose to live better.
Together, WE CAN make a difference. We can give our clients back their health and save lives! Together we are #RDHstrong
About the Author
Dezarae Aldridge-Earl, RDH is a practice owner of “Dental Hygiene with Dezarae”, located in Huntsville, Ontario. You can follow Dezarae on Instagram @dezaraerdh.