27
October
2017
|
05:18 PM
America/New_York

Q&A: Dental Hygienist Opens Up for National Dental Hygiene Month

As October comes to an end, so does the national observance recognizing the need and importance of dental hygiene. For this Q&A, one of our own registered dental hygienists (RDHs) opens up about how she came to this career path and why it is invaluable to the oral health care system.

Let's dig in with Laura Skaret, RDH, BSDH | Project Manager, Safety Net Solutions | DentaQuest Institute
 

Q: Why did you decide to become an RDH?

 


A: My mom is a dental hygienist, and I got my first job at her office as a dental receptionist and then later was trained on the job to work as a dental assistant. I loved my experience as an assistant and found the work we did fascinating – including the devastating results of dental disease. I saw the cycle of dental disease first hand: teeth would need small restorations, then larger restorations, then root canals, then crowns, and even sometimes implants. I knew I wanted to focus my career on helping patients prevent and properly manage dental disease rather than repairing the damage after it occurs.

We had a pamphlet in the office that said that enamel was far more valuable than gold (referring to a gold crown). I found that to be such a thought-provoking and accurate concept. It’s also similar to the old familiar adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That couldn’t be more true in the dental field.
 

Q: Why are hygienists important in the care team?

 
 
A: Dental hygienists are patient advocates. When explaining the dental disease process to patients, I always tell them that my job is essentially to keep them out of the dentist’s chair, but I can only do so much without their buy-in. Due to the nature of plaque biofilm, the daily care that patients do for their own mouths is far more important than the work that we do in one hour with them at the dental office. Patients go to the dental office maybe two to four times per year, however 365 days a year they are responsible for managing their own oral health. This means our most important role is to educate and motivate our patients to improve their daily oral health habits.
 

Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment or most proud moment in relation to working as an RDH?

 
 
A: I’ve realized that it’s not only what you do, but the way that you do it that can make an impact. I always try to be very kind and compassionate to the questions and concerns of my patients. I’ve had several patients who were terrified of coming to the dental office when I first met them. Years of neglecting their mouths and avoiding the dentist would bring them to our office in a lot of pain and in need of quite a bit of dental work. In addition to using a gentle technique and local and topical anesthetics, I try to help them feel more comfortable by talking them through everything I’m doing or telling them stories to get their mind off of the situation. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to their story to find out why they have a fear, affirm their past concern, and then assure them that won’t happen today.
 
When those patients then continue to come in regularly, you know you’ve not only made a difference for their oral cavity, but for their life as well. I had one patient who needed lengthy measures to address advanced decay and periodontal (gum) disease. After we completed her first three visits of needed periodontal therapy, she actually sent a card to my office to thank me for helping her overcome her fear of the dentist. With a more manageable level of fear, she was able to get the care she needed to restore her smile, which gave her back her confidence.
 

Q: How does your professional background impact/influence/help you in your DentaQuest Institute (DQI) role?

 
 
A: My primary role at DQI is as a project manager for Safety Net Solutions (SNS), a DentaQuest Institute program. Safety Net Solutions helps safety net dental clinics adopt targeted business management best practices. Our focus is to ensure that these dental offices can maintain financial viability to stay open and provide access to care for the underserved. We also help ensure that they understand their capacity and can maximize access to care by optimizing their productivity.
 
My previous experience of working in all areas of the dental office (receptionist, chairside with the dentist, and then also as a hygienist) means I have very comprehensive knowledge of how dental offices work, from scheduling appointments, to managing supplies and inventory, to managing the patient’s care experience, to dealing with dental equipment and instrument shortages. Basically, I can understand and relate to almost any concerns our SNS clients have.
 

Q: Why do you continue private practice once a week?

 
 
A: Although you can technically keep your annual dental hygiene license “active” by simply paying the license fee each year, I want to keep it active with actual patient care, as well. Also I continue to practice because I love the work! I love working with patients and helping them improve their oral health. I also believe this helps me stay relevant and engaged with my SNS clients and their common concerns.
 

Q: What is one message you hope to impart to anyone interested in becoming an RDH?

 
 
A: Hygienists are super important members of the care team! As policy changes and we move forward with accountable care organizations and pay for performance insurance reimbursement models, I think the role dental hygienists play in preventing and managing disease will be brought even more into the forefront. When finances are attached to healthy patient outcomes, dental care teams will attach an even higher value to dental hygienists.
 
Also, there is a massive shortage of dental professionals – and dentists in particular – nationwide. Maximizing the use of preventive modalities such as sealants, fluoride varnish, and silver diamine fluoride will help address access gaps where dentists are hard to come by, like rural areas. Of course, we will never stop needing the education and skills of a dentist, but if we can reduce the demand for the skills of a dentist by reducing the dental disease burden, we can help minimize the gap in access to oral health care.
 
 
Interested in learning more about prevention-focused dental care? Check out the DentaQuest Institute's Online Learning Center and let us know what you think!