Get back your mojo

Hygienist Sally Goss offers highlights and solutions to those ‘bad hair’ days when we have our work cut out

A number of years ago, when my spirits were flagging and my enthusiasm for giving the oral hygiene message was waning, I went on a course designed to discover and enhance job motivation. At the end of it, my motivation according to the trainer was to ‘make sure I earned enough money to make the job worthwhile’ and to ‘take enough holidays to keep my energy levels up’. ‘Not good enough,’ I cried and went off to seek inspiration elsewhere.

Motivation might be hard to find but de-motivation is around us all the time. Help yourself to as much as you want, as often as you like. It isn’t seasonal – it’s there all year round. I found it at the hairdresser’s only last week. It was the first time I’d been to that salon and five minutes in, having discovered what I do for a living, the hairdresser announced: ‘I really hate my hygienist’. As a matter of fact, I’ve always hated hairdressers but I never had the nerve to say so.

Dinner party betrayal

At a dinner party, I was quizzed at length by two newly qualified dentists who asked ‘what on earth I found to talk about’ to a patient for 60 minutes. I felt betrayed. Misunderstood and misjudged by the general public maybe – but by a branch of my own profession? Surely not!

What’s more, you don’t even have to look outside the dental practice. Take the patient who came in last week for an examination with the dentist. I’ve been seeing this patient every four months and he takes not a blind bit of notice of anything, I say. The dentist asked him to pay more attention to his interproximal cleaning to which the patient replied: ‘Oh, how do I do that?’ I’m just hoping the judge will recognise provocation when he sees it and let me off lightly. And then there was that heavy smoker who completed treatment yesterday. I proudly handed her the mirror so she could admire the teeth that I had spent 55 minutes buffing and polishing to perfection. And I stood back to accept her accolades.  ‘Oh, you’ve missed a bit,’ she said, pointing to a speck on the distal of a lower eight.

Verbal stroking

But is real motivation harder to find? I think hygienists have a hard job. We work in highly inaccessible areas of the mouth, trying to cause as little discomfort as possible. Constantly smiling, constantly cheery, constantly motivating our patients to reach greater heights with their cleaning regimes. So, who motivates us? Who motivates the motivators?

Fortunately most hygienists are self-motivators but on those ‘dark’ days when motivation is hard to find, where should we look? Verbal stroking is one of the answers. This can come either from your patients or from the dentist, and preferably from both.

Measuring pocket depths and seeing how they have decreased, watching plaque and bleeding scores come down and seeing your patient list increase all offer undeniable proof you’re doing a great job. And hearing patients tell you how much happier and more confident they are now that their mouths are healthy doubles the benefit.

Not getting enough appreciation from your dentist? Book a meeting, ask if they are happy with your work, and then bathe for a while in the praise. You deserve it. And, if praise isn’t forthcoming then what are you doing there? Get out and find someone who really does appreciate you.

Motivational steps

  • Find yourself a mentor. This is a partnership between two people normally working in the same field.  To quote The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring – ‘mentoring is to support and encourage people… in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be’
  • Enrol on a course, preferably something to enhance your role as a dental hygienist such as photography or a tooth-whitening course. Look out for lectures that can fill any gaps in your dental knowledge such as detecting oral cancer
  • Dental journals can also be a source of motivation. Some articles will serve to reaffirm all your beliefs and others will undoubtedly make you hot under the collar. And, if the latter is the case, then why not write in and put your point of view forward. Who knows, your words might just be the motivation some poor dispirited hygienist needs to get her going

Sally Goss RDH DDHE FETC was president of the British Dental Heath Foundation until 2000 and was voted Hygienist of the Year 2000. She was Hygienist Mentor to Boots Dentalcare until 2005. She was instrumental in setting up Smile and has been an Editorial Board member of Dental Health, Team Journal, Preventive Dentistry and, currently, DH&T She is a KOP to a number of leading dental companies and is a regular contributor to hygienist journals.  She has a monthly slot on BBC radio advising listeners on dental problems. She lectures on dental topics overseas and here in the UK. Sally is a director of Practice Doctor Ltd,  a qualified life coach,  a practice valuations consultant and works in private practice in Harley Street, London.


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