My First Day as a Registered Dental Hygienist

My experience with the first job I landed was nauseating. It was my first shift after just receiving my RDH license the day prior.  My first patient needed an full series of x-rays, (OF COURSE), a cleaning, and an exam. Oh…um.. I had 50 minutes!

When I was ready for my exam, the doctor comes in and I forgot the patient’s name to introduce them! Luckily they’ve known each other so they started talking without me. The doctor leans the chair back and starts his exam. He asks me for a run down of the patient. Not knowing exactly what he wanted, I talked about what we completed that day. I said “Well the patient and I completed a full series of radiographs today, he says he is feeling sensitive on the upper right. Looking at the X-rays I see a slight radiolucent area on the distal of 2.”

The Doctor looks at me and asks me if I completed a perio charting. I said yes and he asked me what I found. I tried to pull the chart up but the doctor blocked me (on purpose!) so I tried to remember what I had charted off the top of my head. He then asks me when the patient’s last cleaning was. Panicked, I said “I believe 6 months ago, but I can look if you need the date.” He said nothing again and did not let me through behind him to get to the computer. Lastly he said “this was the last crown I did, when did I make this for him?” By this time my face had to be 50 shades of red. I said “I’m not sure but I can look it up”.

He finally moved aside and let me through. I was able to give him all the information he asked for and then finally the exam was over. The patient reported to the front that he could tell I was new because I seemed so nervous. He wasn’t upset at me, just could tell I had not been working long. This mortified me. I felt like I was the worst student and did not learn what I should have at school. I felt like I had not asked the right questions in school and I did a poor job on my first day. Obviously, I felt like that dentist was a total jerk and I dreaded ever having to do that again. Was hygiene for me? Had I just spent all my savings on a career I would not be successful in?

The Point

Now I can totally see what the dentist was doing. I can look back and, although the experience was dreadful, it taught me so much. It is importamt to talk to the patient during the appointment about what you see and what they have had done. Even if you’ve never met them, you need to get a good summary of a couple things like:

  • when their last cleaning was
  • what was the last service they had other than a cleaning and when
  • what do their gums look like
  • do they have complaints or pain
  • what do their x-rays look like and when were they taken

Every dentist is different and the information they want will be different. This even goes for dentists in the same practice. When you start a new job do not be afraid to ask how they like the exam to go and what they want to hear about first. Engage with the patient and you wont have to memorize anything. When the doctor comes in you’ll just have to tell them what you guys spoke about!

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