Dealing with an individual's state of mind is one of the many hats a dental hygienist wears and give us a unique opportunity to connect with you in a setting that can often easily be overlooked.
People often wonder why dental hygienists get offended when people say "you just clean teeth". If cleaning teeth was the only thing I did, my job would be exponentially easier than it actually is. When you are in the people business, you are never just treating one thing. If you are truly great at what you do, you are always accessing an entire individual and how you can best help that person as a whole. The difference between "cleaning teeth" and treating a person is how you made them feel, and I'm not talking anesthetics.
Mental health while seemingly talked about on a daily basis, is still widely unaddressed in most individual's daily life. People wether they acknowledge there is something wrong or not, will either not seek help or not be given proper treatment if they do. How many times have you gone to the Dr and complained about an ailment, mental or physical and before you can even truly explain what you are feeling you are given a prescription and sent out the door. Leaving with the feeling of "Does anyone truly care about ME?"
My personality is a talker, my mom used to always joke when I was little that I could make a wall talk. I will make a friend anywhere I go and when I talk to you, I am truly interested in you. I am not just making small talk. Even though I may only see my patients on a quarterly or bi-annually basis I am always able to tell when something is not what it appears. For a lot of practitioners addressing this is can make them feel very uncomfortable. For me, I have never known a stranger and I have no problems talking about the hard things. I find it is often life changing when a person feels seen and heard .
I would like to share a story about one of my most recent interactions with a patient to give you insight into my daily life of "cleaning teeth". I had a college aged male who came in who I had seen regularly every 6 months since he was a child. He always had a larger than life personality, excited about what was going on in the world and was truly so much fun to talk with. As a boy-mom myself, I have such a soft spot for boys as I see my own boys growing up in each of them. Every stage of life they become more and more independent and grow into the young man who will leave the nest and set out on their own. Today was different. When I called him back for treatment his demeanor was a complete 180 then what I was used to. He barely said a word and his body language was very standoffish. OK, I thought maybe he is just tired, after all it was a morning appointment and we know how teens can be. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions. During the entire appointment no matter what we talked about he was extremely negative, this was not the boy I knew. I would change subjects or ask him about something I knew he loved and was met with " the world sucks, life sucks, I don't care, I'm just here". I had that pit in my stomach something was off and I just sat there in silence at the end of the cleaning and said a quick prayer, God, please let me say the right words to this kid, so that when he leaves here he knows he matters.
I took my loupes and mask off and sat him upright in the chair and pulled my chair up next to him. I looked him right in the eye and said "As a mom of boys please understand what I am about to say is coming from a place of love. I know you and your personality is off right now. This is not who you usually are, is something going on you want to talk about?" You could feel the energy shift in the room, his entire body language changed. It was very apparent he had been masking emotions and the way he was speaking was almost as a cry for help in hopes someone would reach out. We had a great talk and I offered him a book I had just started reading. In that 5 minutes I could tell things were going to be ok. Life is hard and while we throw around the saying"BE KIND FOR EVERYONE IS FIGHTING A BATTLE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT." The harsh reality is how many moments we don't take the time to do just that. We have tunnel vision of just getting through the day ourselves, that we forget that if we just slowed down and dealt with what was in front of us, we could actually change the world.
This is only one of the daily interactions I have with my patients. I have sat and cried in a room with a husband who lost their spouse just a few days prior but wanted to come to their cleaning to feel some sense of normalcy. I have been brought to tears laughing sharing train wreck stories with new moms who just want to hear that someone else has gone through what they are. Often times I joke I am half therapist and half dental hygienist. Sometimes all a person wants is a place of peace and quiet where their thoughts and mind can rest for a moment before they have to deal with them again. I can do that too. I wear many hats in a day, it is what I love most about my job and why I am not worried about a robot taking my position anytime soon.
My hopes are if you are reading this and you feel alone in this world or think no one cares about you please know I do. We may not know each other yet but I am a mere message away if you want to reach out. Full disclosure I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice but I am a person and I will listen. I might even share my funny fear of dolphins story.
I hope that the fear of offending someone does not keep you from connecting with them. You never know how one smile, one gesture, one hug can save someone's life.
On a side note I highly recommend the book, The Pivot Year by Brianna West, it is life changing. It is a self help book where you read one page a day, it is 365 days to become the person you were truly meant to be. I'm only 45 days into the book and I find it so eye opening.