Is dental hygiene hard? 12 Struggles you'll only understand if you're an RDH

The dental hygiene profession is fun but full of challenges. Some are hilarious, while others... Read about them here.
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Working as an RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist) has its positives and negatives. And while the positives are easy to take, it’s really how you deal with the negatives that will determine whether your career in the dental industry will be a success. The best way to deal with bad parts? Look on the funny side!

If you’ve had a hard day at the dental practice (or you’re still studying and want to know what to expect when you graduate) here are some of the most common daily struggles you’ll definitely relate to as a dental hygienist, apart from the minor inconveniences such as people that don't know the difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist.

1. Wearing bodily fluids that aren’t yours

If you have children or have ever had to look after someone else’s kids, you might be familiar with having someone else’s bodily fluids on your clothes. But working as a dental hygienist takes it to another level.

No matter how long you’ve worked in this role, getting saliva, blood, pus and every other kind of bodily fluid that hides in patients’ mouths on your clothing is tough to get used to. Thankfully, the pros of the dental hygiene job far outweigh this nasty con so you should still be smiling at the end of the day.

2. Dealing with adults who are worse than children

You expect children to be awkward in the dentist chair, but sometimes adults can be the worst patients. Repeatedly having to move heads back into their original position, asking patients to open their mouths time and again, and listening to half-truths about their at-home dental hygiene is something you’d expect to only have to deal with from children.

3. Hearing how much people hope they never see you again

As a regular or traveling dental hygienist, you’re told how much people hate coming to see you and how much they never want to see you again several times a day. As long as it’s because of their fear of dental work and not for any personal reasons, it’s perfectly normal and just something you need to shrug off and smile at.

4. Feeling the closest you’ll get to a spa day is when the steam from the autoclave smacks you in the face

When you’re feeling stressed, you might start daydreaming about taking a mini spa break and indulging in a facial, massage, sauna...but when the reality of the job hits and you realize the closest you’ll get to that break is when the steam from the autoclave smacks you in the face, you’ll soon be brought back to Earth.

On a serious note, if you’re genuinely suffering from being overworked, changing your environment could be the answer. At Cloud Dentistry, dental hygienists have complete freedom over their jobs. If you’d rather take control and decide where you work, when you work and how much you get paid, creating a free Cloud Dentistry profile could be just what you need. 

5. Hearing, “Bad teeth run in my family”

And muttering, “No, a lack of brushing and flossing runs in your family,” under your breath. You hear all kinds of excuses on a daily basis as a dental hygienist. Regardless, you’ve still got to do your best to smile and educate without sounding patronizing or insulting.

6. Being told how to do your job by patients

This happens in all professions, but it can be even more frustrating as a dental hygienist. After you’ve spent years studying to gain your qualifications, followed by internships to build up experience and then hunting for the right job for you, being told by patients how to properly clean their teeth can be a little aggravating. Discover more pros and cons of being an RDH here.

7. Not being surprised by unbelievable priorities

Some patients prioritize brilliant white teeth above everything else — including gum health and tooth loss. If you haven’t told a patient something along the lines of, “You have severe periodontal disease and are at risk of losing some of your teeth,” Only to hear, “Oh good, no cavities! How much is teeth whitening?” yet, you soon will!

Read: is dental hygiene a good career? >>

8. Patients telling you one thing and the dentist another

Some patients don’t understand or at least underestimate the role of a dental hygienist. When you ask them if anything hurts and if they have any problems, they’ll often reply, “no”. But when the dentist begins their exam and asks them the same questions, you bet they’ll answer, “everything” and start reeling off a list of ailments.

Be ready to receive a sideways glare from the dentist who’s very shortly going to be asking why you told them the patient was fine just minutes ago.

9. Hearing a patient covered in tattoos and body piercings say they have a needle phobia

Needle phobias are very common. But it’s difficult to take someone seriously when they say their terrified of needles, when they’re covered head-to-toe in visible proof that suggests otherwise.

10. When you can communicate with the dentist without using words

It’s usually a one-way path of communication from the dentist to you. If you’ve been working at the same practice for long enough, chances are what looks like an absent-minded gesture to an outsider is actually a long list of instructions to you.

For example, a slight hand signal could easily be used to convey, “Remove the isolite, pack the cord, get a shade and get ready for an impression because I have to go do three exams”.

11. Your face doesn’t itch all day until your gloved hands are inside someone’s mouth

Trying to convince yourself that you don’t have an itch or you don’t need to sneeze will be second nature to you. And while you’re perfectly comfortable all day, the urge to do either of these two always rises its ugly head at the most inopportune moments. 

This is how to create a winning RDH resume >>

12. Gritting your teeth and saying, “Of course you can go to the bathroom. You’re already 15 minutes late...what’s another 5 or 10?”

What some people think of as just a few minutes could easily throw off the entire dental practice schedule for the day. You didn’t want a lunch break anyway, right? As a dental hygienist, it’s likely you’ve mastered the art of placating oblivious patients while giving your best smile and not sounding sarcastic. 

Written By Sandie