“I love dental hygiene.” That phrase is not heard much, especially during this pandemic. My career as a clinician included over twenty years of full-time work. Based on my experience, I have two especially important pieces of wisdom to share with the future of dental hygiene.
The first is to remember the ergonomics that you learn because it is a physically demanding job. Unfortunately, because of my lack of attention to the ergonomic guidelines that have been established within the industry, I have a shoulder injury and can no longer practice clinically. Injuries such as this can be avoided.
The second piece of wisdom is to follow the ethics of our profession. I am a dental entrepreneur and have worked in management, consulting, speaking and teaching. I have found that there is an “elephant in the room” which dentistry is not addressing: to take care of your employees and patients, doing whatever it takes to make team members and patients who are receiving treatment feel safe and comfortable, while following ethical guidelines. It seems quite simple to be able to do this. However, the dental profession’s lack of adherence to ethical standards never ceases to amaze me.
But who or what is to blame for the lack of ethics? There are many reasons. When the pandemic first hit our industry, there was much panic and confusion. Many dental professionals had no choice but to leave and never return. Now I walk into many offices that are not following CDC guidelines.
- There are no barriers at the front desks or no air filter system upgrades.
- The time to treat patients has not been increased to properly disinfect the room or for the staff to even take a bathroom break.
- Personal protective equipment is not being changed enough, although this may be a supply and demand issue.
- Guidelines for exposure or possible exposure are not being followed, especially regarding quarantine, which may include closing the office for as long as fourteen days.
- Employees are leaving states that have mandatory quarantine periods without telling their employers, morally putting employees and patients in danger of catching the virus.
And the ethics violations are not just clinical. For example, the fraud of insurance and billing is visible. The pandemic has financially hurt many professions, and dentistry is no exception.
Fortunately, there are several ways to ethically continue practicing dentistry in a safe environment for patient and employees. Many resources are available to help with costs, and there is evidence-based information outlining how and why to follow the proper guidelines. If we all work together, the profession can be a leader in safe, effective care for patients and employees.
The offices should be setting guidelines that are clear and available to everyone, but that requires balancing the cost of doing business and doing what is ethically right. It has been a struggle for a long time, but the pandemic has brought it to the surface. While adhering to ethical standards, can the profession be profitable, provide excellent care for patients and not burn out the employees? As a dental professional, I believe NOW is the perfect time to return to our code of ethics and get rid of that “elephant in the room” permanently.