Dental Hygienists Wearing the New PPE: Our New World


Slowly this lock down mandated by our Governor, Mike DeWine, is easing up and our community research team will be going back to work to continue our study. Thankfully, the appointment time for our participants is very short. That being said, we will only be required to wear the new PPE for a couple of hours and for that I am thankful. The feedback I have been getting from fellow dental hygienists wearing the new PPE has me apprehensive. Is it part of our new world?

My friend and colleague sent me a picture of herself wearing the new PPE at her dental office and lamented on how difficult it was to work in. “I literally can’t breathe!”

Love Oxygen

“I couldn’t move easily with the new PPE. It slows you down.” she continued, “Less oxygen and drowsiness. I feel sorry for those dental professionals who have respiratory issues.”

On top of the stifling PPE she was bombarded with patients. The office manager, relieved to have a hygienist, took advantage of the opportunity and continued to add patients to her already tight schedule.

Four patients per hour

The manager fastidiously called on patients who were overdue for their appointments and added them to her schedule. She was given 4 patients per hour, a 15 minute break, in a 9 hour workday.

“Because you have to talk to patients and take radiographs with the PPE, it makes everything more difficult.”

“I was thirsty, my eyes were red, and they were adding more patients. It was a bad, bad day. I cannot even explain. I was traumatized.”

My friend is an intelligent, kind, hardworking dental professional. Her work ethic is strong and admirable. She told me about her day working with the new PPE and how she mustered through the challenges; it made me sad for her, myself and other dental professionals.

Another friend sent a group text and her picture to our dental team with this comment: “Y’all this sucks!”

New PPE for dental hygienists

The plight of the dental hygienist

This is the plight of the dental hygienist. Accept it or not, for some of us, this isn’t going to sit right. Another friend sent me a picture of a friend in full PPE working on a patient.

“I can’t breathe and they won’t put on the air. Many of us are fainting.” Said one of her friends who fainted twice in one day.

This has me wondering, where is our profession going and how many of us will stay? These are uncharted territories but we have been here before. We have entered and stayed in the field in light of other omnipresent infliction’s, like AIDS. We were taught to don universal precautions and we did and it became second nature.

Love Dirty

The real challenge here is the inability to breathe! I don’t know about you but with my background in yoga, breathing is essential to life force. Without breath, we die.

Which leads many of us to posit, what is my next step? Where do I go with such a specialized degree as dental hygiene? Unfortunately, a lot of doors remain locked to dental hygienists. Have you ever tried to become a Diabetes Educator? I think we would make perfect educators for diabetics but the American Diabetes Care and Education Specialists Organization thinks not. Eligibility requirements are:

Standard pathways: Many health professionals qualify including, Registered Nurses, Registered Dietitians/Dietitian Nutritionists, Pharmacists, PAs, MD/DO, and many others (not dental hygienists).

How are you taking to the new PPE? Do you find it challenging? Is it time for a career change? If so, what will you do? There are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

In an effort to help you explore a possible career out of dentistry, it might help to learn what your strengths are. One great resource is Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0. A yummy little book that is both telling and revealing of your natural strengths and talents.

Maybe scuba diving is for you

Hey! Even though this additional PPE isn’t for some of us, for others it might work out fine and that is awesome! Perhaps scuba diving is one of your strengths. See, this might work in your favor.

For other dental hygienists, these changes in dentistry might be just the push they need to do something else that aligns with their strengths and talents.

One of my dental hygiene friends is a beautiful artist and painting is one of her many strengths.

I discovered, in the dark room of my dental office, that I loved to write. I spent many minutes in between patients pouring out prose on my little Prevident paper pad. To release pressure I drew scenarios depicting moments in time in my dental office. It was a creative outlet for a not so creative position.

It doesn’t look like we will be going back to work in research until the fall. I sincerely look forward to going back to work. I love what I do but to be safe, I am cultivating all of my natural strengths and talents and honing them. You never know where life will take you next. You know the saying, life happens when you’re busy making other plans?

Time will tell for many of us. It might benefit us to learn some new skills so that we aren’t somewhere in a dark room wishing we were somewhere else. That is an empty way to live.

Are you staying in the dental field as a dental hygienist? If not, what are you going to do? I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line and tell me what you think about the new PPE.

Stay safe, Annamarie

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