No longer are Dental Hygienists employees only; they are employers and entrepreneurs.
It’s been many years since graduating from the University of Toronto, Dental Hygiene programme. As a matter of fact it’s exactly 40 years this month. I just received information on our upcoming reunion. As I reflect on the first few months, I recall the capping ceremony, yes that’s right we wore nurses caps with a mauve velvet stripe. The previous year’s students then lit our candles to signify a passing on of sorts. Can’t quite remember what was being passed on but I’ll attribute the memory lapse to forty years of life’s experiences.
After graduation I entered public health to educate primary school children on oral health and to conduct very cursory intraoral examinations on a selected segment of the school population. Examination instruments were soaked in a disinfecting solution for roughly thirty minutes before being used for the next group of children. I did not wear gloves, a mask, and safety glasses or, wash and use hand sanitizers between children. Throughout those early years a little voice in my head questioned what long-term health effects would befall me in later years. Aside from the direct contact with oral fluids, disinfecting solutions and breathing in aerosols I was exposed to a plethora of other chemical contaminants and biological hazards. This continued as I transitioned into private practice.
Enter once again that little voice suggesting that my health and safety were at risk.
Practising Dental Hygiene was a privilege and a passion. For over half my career I specialized in paediatric and orthodontic disciplines. When it was time to hang up my scalers I was far from ready to “retire”. Instead there was an opportunity to found a company specializing in workplace health and safety. One of my sincerest desires was to address issues that affect Dental Hygiene practitioners.
Dental Hygiene has come a long way since I graduated. No longer are hygienists employees only; they are employers and entrepreneurs. Along with these new roles come responsibilities under federal and provincial health and safety laws. Historically dentists have done everything possible for the safety of their clients but, as employers, not nearly enough to keep their employees safe and healthy. Interestingly, the following quote, although from an American source, identifies the lack of emphasis on health and safety for the health care worker.
May 18, 2011
“Health care is the second-fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, employing over 12 million workers. Women represent nearly 80% of the health care work force. Health care workers face a wide range of hazards on the job, including needle stick injuries, back injuries, latex allergy, violence, and stress. Although it is possible to prevent or reduce health care worker exposure to these hazards, health care workers actually are experiencing increasing numbers of occupational injuries and illnesses. Rates of occupational injury to healthcare workers have risen over the past decade.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
It is my personal quest to raise health and safety awareness for the Dental Hygiene profession. I look forward to contributing future Blogs and resources. You are welcome to email me with comments, suggestions or questions.
Carola Hicks graduated from Dental Hygiene, University of Toronto and is founder and CEO of Workplace Safety Group, experts in workplace health & safety - HTTP://WWW.WORKPLACESAFETYGROUP.COM