Yesterday morning at eleven I was ushered onto the dental chair by the kind hygienist who has been cleaning and examining my teeth for the past several years. She makes sure her patients are comfortable and at ease as much as she is able.
“Betty’s” demeanor is enhanced by her work area which is a part of a clinic in a brand-new building. “Betty’s” tools are the latest that high tech can design. The dentist she’s employed by is more than an acquaintence. I used to work with him when he was a high school student intern at my radio station. Everything and everyone in the clinic fosters patient comfort and confidence.
Yet, I’m like most people because I don’t like to go to the dentist office. Regardless of how pleasant the dental team tries to make each visit, most of us think of dentistry as a necessary evil or an ordeal we have to get through. Just thinking about visiting the dentist causes us to tense up.
There is an “unpleasantness potential” present in the lives of hygienists and dentists, too. Haven’t you sometimes wondered how they put up with difficult people, halitosis, tooth decay, saliva, and blood, several times a day, day after day? Yesterday, I asked “Betty” how she copes with the unpleasant aspects of her job.
She says on tough days, she tries to remember why she chose her career in the first place–that is to help people. Yet she is sensitive to the physical pain and emotional discomfort of her patients–this awareness is always in the background when she works with each patient.
Performing her craft with very sharp, pointy tools on the teeth and sensitive, tender tissues in people’s mouths is a very stressful occupation. “Betty” says that this aspect coupled with difficult patients causes a great deal of more stress. These, coupled with any normal personal or family issues that pop up, are at the root of severe burnout among dental hygienists.
Then there is the problem of the physical, human frailties of the hygienists’ bodies. They must bend over their patients to find the best view of the inside of mouths. This contributes to posture and back pain problems. Steady hands and calm attitude are very important when using drills and sharp tools to clean teeth, one false move can cause pain and injury to the patient. After a day of this back-breaking, nerve wracking work, “Betty” can hardly wait to get home for an hour of chill time alone.
She confessed that she has gone through a few mid-life emotional issues and has experienced an existential crisis or two. “Betty” says that because she is a “people person” she has kept her original goal and purpose in mind; even though it’s a struggle some days.
After “Betty” completed her work, my friend, the dentist, arrived in the room and examined my mouth for potential problems. He found nothing wrong. Then he thanked me for coming in and also expressed gratitude to “Betty”. His act of thankfulness towards “Betty” made me understand one reason she chooses to stay on the job at the clinic. That is mutual respect and caring.
“Betty” handed me a small plastic bag containing some floss, a sample tube of toothpaste, and a fancy toothbrush. She accompanied me to the waiting room and wished me goodbye.