I have always thought of myself as an average dental hygienist. I come to work and provide patients with care every hour of every day.
I begin by taking a blood pressure and a periodontal exam. The exam includes probe depth readings, measurement of recession, evaluation of furcation involvement and mobility. I look for signs of wear to access if there is the possibility of occlusal disease or a traumatic bite. I look for signs of sleep apnea. My oral cancer exam includes a visual exam and feeling of the tongue, lips, throat and neck. I test pH to assess whether or not the patient is at risk for decay because of acidic saliva and I also check to make sure the patient has adequate salivary flow. I review this data with my patient and then we proceed with any procedures scheduled or treatment plan new treatment with the dentist.
To me this is the average.
The more I learn from my new patients, when they say that they have never had such a thorough examination, the more I worry about what my colleagues are actually doing and why.
The “why” could be due a number of reasons. Time is the most prevalent reason. I have the luxury of a full hour with my patients. Many of my colleagues do not. Not having enough time can create an environment where something needs to be cut in order to stay on time.
I would not be able to pick one item to delete.
Data collection is important. How can we help our patients if they or we don’t know what their problems are? Not checking for abnormal lesions is not an option either. Maybe checking pH is over the top. But is it? Isn’t our profession one that is focused on prevention? This may cut into the bottom line of a practice and some are not as lucky as I to work with a dentist who would rather prevent disease than amputate a tooth. Maybe cutting out blood pressure would save me two minutes and the occasional lost appointment when I need to dismiss a patient to get them to the ER because their BP is in the stroke zone. I don’t know. This sounds kind of important to me.
I also wonder if other office’s exams aren’t as thorough because some dental hygienists work with other dental personnel who do not value the services we provide. Yes, we clean teeth but that is not the only service we provide. We have moral and ethical responsibilities to provide above average care to our patients and to use everything we have learned in school and throughout our careers to better the health of our patients.
There are times when I am not popular with other hygienists or even some of my patients who just want to polish or be polished and who want to scrape or be scraped. It hurts me when I am criticized for doing more than what is expected in their eyes.
I honestly do not think that I am an above average hygienist even when my new patients compliment us on the thoroughness of our exam. I aspire to be more than I am and my reach is high. Our patients deserve that.