Mentor Advice ForumLeaving the op
Erin Daniel asked 12 months ago

I have been a dental hygienist for 10 years now and I am wanting to see how I can possibly work my way into another avenue as my body/hands have taken quite a hit over the years. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge over the years that I still want to do something with it rather then leave dental completely. I am just not sure how to go about this. I did get my BSDH degree shortly after I graduated with AA. Any advice? 

9 Answers
Helene Bednarsh, BS, RDH, MPH Staff answered 9 months ago

Perhaps you should consider dental industry from the standpoint of education.  If you do the OSAP certification I would think companies would want you for lecturing, etc.  A few of my friends have done that but now retired or retiring

Marion C. Manski, RDH, MS Staff answered 9 months ago

Yes!! Contact dental hygiene programs in your area. Start as an adjunct clinical instructor most likely in the first year of clinical. This would be a good segway into the teachings of that program from the ground up. Faculty covering students in clinic must have a BS degree; I believe you will find all your experience very helpful to the students! Good Luck!

Marty Dellapena Staff answered 9 months ago

Good for you for recognizing it’s time to move on from clinical practice.  Depending on you areas of interest, and your willingness to pursue leads or actually further you education, there are so many great pathways to take. A few things come to mind to consider:

  1. Dental Insurance Administration :  explore both commercial medical/dental insurance and government programs (Medicaid and Medicare Advantage)  This arena is huge and an array of “sub-specialties” like: continuous quality improvement/quality measurement, policy, provider &/or customer relations, claims adjudication and more.
  2. Dental Products: Check out opportunities in both the distributor arena as well as the manufacturer world
  3. Administering/Managing School-based or Long-tern Care- based dental programs
  4. Explore your state and/or regional Oral Health Coalitions —  Sometimes these are non-profits with staffing dollars to support administration/project management
  5. …And the obvious for Bachelor’s trained RDHs :
  • Education (either in an Assisting or RDH program, continuing education through specialty corporations), or a prevention educator in schools or in Head Start.
  • Research –  there are an endless number of avenues in this area where health/science background is a must but strongly consider a Masters or Doctorate degree, as these are essential)
Doreen K. Naughton, RDH, BSDH Staff answered 9 months ago

Before you give up on clinical dental hygiene all together, review your body and hand positioning when you are working.  Also evaluate the patient and operator chairs, and instruments you are using.  It is too easy to get into poor habits as we work. I’ve been there and still practicing over 40 years, 32 years in long term care facilities where the care is challenging.
About 20 years ago I was beginning to have hand and back issues.  I enrolled in a basic instrumentation CE class and re-learned what I could to to help my hands, it helped! I also took classed in ergonomics and found them helpful.  I also saw a hand specialist for evaluation and care when needed.  I wore soft splints as night to keep my hands/wrists in a neutral position during the night.  I also learned to sometimes work standing up to help keep my back straighter and my shoulders down.  Since Covid, I have reduced appointments to 4 or 5 each day and added extra clinical days however I have found I have less stress and do the best to keep myself, patients safe.

Be sure to talk to your employer to see what he/she is willing to do to help you be more comfortable in clinical dental hygiene.  Remember that you are a valuable assett to the practice!  A new chair and some continuing education classes are much less costly than a new employee!

If you find you want expolore options, go for it.  Review the other roles for dental hygienist, for example: public health, education, research, corporate sales, or the insurance industry. If you practice in a direct access state your options are even greater. Start talking to companies, schools and the dental hygienist who work in these roles.  They will have lots of information to share.  Ask them how they like their positions, how they found their positions and what you need to do to be prepared to enter these new roles.   The ADHA website has information and classes on Education and Research for career options.  Read periodicals and online posts to explore your many options.

Change can be exciting, time consuming, fiancially difficult and personnally challenging but also very rewarding in the long run.  Good luck and don’t rush your decisions.

Nancy Kiehl, RDH, MS Staff answered 9 months ago

Yes, dental hygiene does a number on the body in negative ways. I am at 36 years in the profession but many of those years were spent teaching, which was not as grueling to my body as clinical practice. My advise for you is to consider other related fields within dental hygiene: teaching, sales rep. for a dental supply company, public health, recruitment/hiring of hygienists for a corotate dental company, etc. Start investigating other possibilities open to you.

I also would encourage you to ask for pay increases so that you can decrease your clinical hours or days without reducing your salary. Start demanding a full hour for each patient so that you are not rushed and stressed. Dentists and office managers seem to forget that dental hygienists are humans and we need a full lunch break with the 15 minute breaks that most State laws say employees are entitled to. Negotiate for paid sick days and vacations so you can have well deserved breaks from work.

I wish we had a dental hygiene Union to fight for us but unfortunately we don’t so you will have to fight for yourself. As dental hygienists, with the greatest risk of aerosol generated infections, we really should be getting hazard pay and full medical benefits. Maybe if we all start demanding those benefits, dental hygiene will become a more secure profession.