I have been a dental hygienist for the past 7 years and have discovered my passion is gone. This is very upsetting because dental hygiene is my profession. I once loved the clinical aspect of hygiene (especially perio), but now I despise it. I hate how patients talk to us, how my office allows them to be late, how people—both patients and dental team members—are rude for no reason. I find myself frustrated and angry with patients. I just do my job and go home, but it’s eating me up. Physically, the job has taken a tremendous toll on my body and I am looking into other opportunities. Changing offices isn’t the solution as I’m finally working in two practices that I actually really like for the first time in years. My question is to those who have been practicing clinically for many years—how do you stay passionate about your job? I greatly appreciate your help.
Your question was very disheartening to read, but I also feel you are not alone. Working full-time as a dental hygienist in private practice can be difficult both emotionally and physically. Personally, I find joy in treating each patient as an individual and a friend. My passion comes from wanting to help my patients to gain better health. Overall, the patients I treat are not rude to me. I do remember one case in particular in which the patient was rude. At the end of the appointment, I politely suggested that maybe she might like to schedule with a different dental hygienist in our office. She immediately said “Oh no, I want to see you.” After that, she has been very nice. Mentally, I believe these patients are just scared of dentistry in general, and this fear comes across as rudeness. Stress and burnout can become a part of any profession including dental hygiene, but this condition must be addressed and not ignored. I applaud you for recognizing this problem and for looking for avenues for healing. Michalak-Turcotte and Sanders1 (discussed strategies for dental hygienist to manage stress and burnout. This article has a wealth of information and easy to employ techniques to combat the problem mentally and physically. One theme within the article is the importance of dealing with occupational stress due to the effect it can have on us emotionally and physically. Chronic stress can lead to many health problems. Please take the time to have a full medical physical and discuss your emotional stress and occupational unhappiness with your physician. Next try to fully discover the signs, symptoms, and causes of your burnout and employ some of the management techniques explained by Michalak-Turcotte and Sanders. Life is too short to be unhappy in your career. Sometimes just reducing the number of hours working in dental hygiene practice can bring much needed relief. Also, visit the American Dental Hygienists’ Association website under education and careers. There is an entire section on employment in dental hygiene outside of private practice. Maybe a new dental hygiene career path will be an answer for you.
Reference 1. Michalak-Turcotte C, Sanders M. Strategies for managing stress. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Available HERE.
As a clinical dental hygienist of 46 years, I recommend professional diversity. Dental hygiene offers many avenues whereby you can offer expertise. Teaching, in my opinion, is the best way to refresh renewed passion in your career. I have had the opportunity to teach continuing education courses my entire career, serve on advisory councils for various companies, and volunteer in Vietnam with Operation Smile, all while working as a clinical dental hygienist. These sidebars have allowed me to maintain a passion for my patients and the profession. It may be time for you to pursue an opportunity with a company as a sponsored speaker or representative. You will find these outside activities help to promote your interest in the profession that will carry over to your patients. It is unfortunate that so many dental offices seem combative. We have a dental hygiene team of four who have worked with us forever. I am spoiled in the sense that my husband is a dentist and the person for whom I work (along with two other associates). There are no questions asked when I require new instruments, ultrasonic inserts/tips, or more time to do the best job I can for our patients. We cover health costs and pay for lunch hours. It all makes for a happy staff. Perhaps you could outline what you would propose would make for an improved clinical day. Patients running late in our office does not happen. We do not see them after 15 minutes, and we may not be able to complete all procedures because of their tardiness. The dentists thank the assistants continually for their help. The dental hygiene team is current because of my interest (especially, like you, in perio). The front desk is respectful of everyone who walks into the reception area, as well as the entire team. The number one rule is respect your fellow team members, which sounds terribly lacking in the offices you don’t like. Sounds corny but it is amazing how smiling can turn people around. But the real effort will need to involve all team members to maintain a level of happiness and professionalism. My niece went into dental hygiene because of me. She lasted 2 years in a perio office that allowed only 50 minutes per patient, terrible bonuses, all about production, no gratitude, etc. It is sad that working in a less than caring office tainted the profession for her. I know our office must sound like fantasyland to someone like you who has had such a dour experience, but dental hygiene can be a rewarding experience, not only with patients, but also with all team members.
Dear Lost Passion, First, let me say that I am sorry to hear about your struggle with a dwindling passion for dental hygiene. I also understand what you are going through and, yes, I agree that dental hygiene takes a tremendous toll on the body. I have had times when I have wanted nothing more than to stay at home and never set foot in my dental office again. Usually, this means I need a vacation or some time off. I will take a few days to recuperate or I plan a vacation or I do both! It also helps to take CE courses and attend a professional dental hygiene meeting such as ADHA annual session. These rejuvenate my passion for my profession and get me excited to practice again. Discovering new ways to improve my clinical skills or new products to educate my patients with are both burn out busters. A major boost for me came when I decided to get involved with Perioscopy and learn a new way to root plane. What a huge difference using an endoscope has made to my practice as a dental hygienist! It was incredible to see how much calculus I missed when I couldn’t see! Perioscopy also teaches you how instruments work and the ins and outs of instrumenting root structure. Amazingly, after 25 years as a dental hygienist, I improved my skills and now relish in the fact that I can help spare my patients from periodontal surgery. I am thanked and appreciated for my efforts. I finally feel like an integral part of the periodontal practice I work for. As for the toll dental hygiene takes on the body, I have found that massages and seeing a chiropractor help me to deal with the pain of practice. I hope you can resolve your struggle with dental hygiene practice but please remember the oath: DO NO HARM. In my mind, that means no harm to patients or to yourself. Peace.