If you (like thousands of other people) dread going to the dentist, a career as a dental hygienist might sound like your worst nightmare. But it’s different on the other side of…whatever those instruments are called. Dental hygienists are highly skilled professionals and, with a median annual salary of around US$70,000, they make a pretty good living. Do you have what it takes? Read on to learn about the top 10 skills needed to be a dental hygienist.
#1 Good personal hygiene
Let’s get this one out of the way right now. It might not be a “skill,” but good personal hygiene is important when you’re working about two inches away from somebody’s nose. And eyes. (You do remember to clean your ears, right?)
If screaming children get on your nerves, how will you handle panicky adults who rear back every time you get close to their mouths? For some reason, dental visits can turn grown men and women into toddlers. Dental hygienists have to be able to maintain their patience in the face of a patient’s irrational (to you) terror.
#3 Thorough knowledge of the sciences
First, there’s biology. You have to know how teeth develop, what it takes to keep them healthy, and what can be done to repair damage. Next, chemistry. You’ll be using lots of manufactured substances, and you have to understand how they’re made, how to use them, what the risks are, and how to dispose of them. And then there’s psychology. Knowing how to read body language and other indicators of anxiety and how to ease those fears is critical to getting the job done.
#4 Fine motor skills and quick reflexes
You’ll be working inside patients’ mouths with sharp instruments, and, unlike surgical patients, they’ll be awake. They may sneeze, cough, start talking, or draw back in fear. You’ll have to be able to work in the confined space of someone’s mouth and quickly react to any movements they make.
Even if you don’t have other hygienists reporting to you, leadership is still an important skill. You’ll be doing a lot of persuading and instructing (in proper dental care). You’ll need to walk that tricky line between being authoritative/expert and being bossy. It’s the same skill needed to be a parent, a teacher, or a manager.
Dentistry is one of the few health sciences where you have to secure the patient’s active cooperation at every step, and you never know when an extreme aversion is going to pop up. If a patient won’t let you do what you need to do, you’ll need to come up with an alternate way of achieving the same goal, and you’ll have to do it on the fly.
In most cases, hygienists do their work before the dentist even says hello to the patient. They have to be able to take charge and act independently without relying on the dentist for backup.
Patients aren’t always going to be receptive to your recommendations. Whether it’s stony silence or a loud, “Hell, no!”, you can’t just give up on something that really needs to be done. It’s important to be able to keep persisting until you’ve completed the task you were assigned to do.
#9 Continual learning
As in any science, new discoveries in dentistry are being made all the time. You’ll have to learn new methods of doing things, and you’ll have to be able to explain them to patients. You may be confronted with information that completely contradicts what you were previously taught. Your office may start doing something you never thought was possible. Whatever the reason, you need to be able to assimilate and start using new information quickly.
#10 Attention to detail
Let’s say you make a mistake one percent of the time. That means that out of 500 patients, five of them get a filling in the wrong tooth or get a crown that doesn’t fit. They have an unnecessary procedure, and then they have to come back and have the one they were supposed to get the first time. Mistakes have a real impact on real people. Attention to detail in order to minimize mistakes is a critical skill for hygienist.
Are you a dental hygienist? Are there any other skills that could be added to the list above? Your thoughts and comments below please…
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