A Reason to Smile: Goodwin Dental Hygiene Students and Hope for the Future
by Christine Walsh, RDH, MS, Dental Hygiene Program Director
with students of the Goodwin University Dental Hygiene Program
It can be stated unequivocally that 2020 was the year that turned our planet upside down. People around the world faced great uncertainty and unsurmountable odds in their attempts to avoid illness and maintain well-being. If 2020 has illuminated anything, it is the resolve of the human spirit and the determination to maintain our resilience under pressure.
From first responders and medical teams to educators, grocery store clerks, and mail carriers, the workers of the world proved themselves to be essential, all in their own unique ways. It is true: we are all connected.
But where do we go from here? Every industry as we know it has changed, and with these changes came many questions about what we should do next. Students throughout the world had to slam on the brakes and reevaluate what they should pursue in the future. Healthcare was already an area that people historically thought twice about as a career option because of the fear of disease transmission.
Despite infection control and best safety practices receiving significantly greater attention because of the pandemic, students in the middle of any health care program were put on edge by the sudden changes in the way health care delivery was being taught.
Dental hygiene is a perfect example. Oral health is directly related to overall health. The skills and knowledge that dental hygienists acquire have far-reaching effects that can help save lives. Through oral examinations and multi-leveled assessments, dental hygienists are in prime positions to detect anomalies and assist dentists with recommendations for further care. They provide much-needed patient education and clinical services that help patients live healthier lives.
Each student who enters the Goodwin University Dental Hygiene program learns very quickly that dental hygiene services require critical thinking skills and evidence-based decision making. It is with these skills that our students were able to make the giant leap into the COVID-19 world with their eyes wide open and their determination to serve humanity even stronger.
Creativity, care, and commitment — these were major factors in how our Dental Hygiene students managed to master their professional skills — and to educate their patients — under such challenging circumstances. Whether implementing new safety guidelines at the Goodwin clinic or providing oral health education sessions via Zoom, these students remained true to their calling to help others however they can.
Below are some observations from our resilient second-year Dental Hygiene students that give some insight on what they personally experienced, the challenges they faced in their studies and in providing services to their patients, and how they felt throughout the year. The students hope these thoughts will inspire you to consider dental hygiene as a career option.
CJ Bessett, Robin Jacob-Sugg, Alex Liogky, Holland Perry, and Lynn Riopelli:
Our experiences as dental hygiene students during the COVID-19 pandemic have been, literally, historic. Many changes have occurred, for patients as well as for clinicians.
As clinicians, we increased our use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by adding N95 masks, face shields, and scrub caps. This extra PPE created a safer working environment for not only the clinicians, but for our patients as well. Other safety measures we implemented in the clinic were the blue walls that separate clinicians from each other and their patients. The clinic was also converted into a paperless, completely digital environment, which also helped keep us and our patients safe.
Another precaution the clinic implemented was controlling the number of patients allowed in the waiting room and how they entered the building. When patients first arrived, they stayed in the parking lot until they received a call informing them to come into the building. They were screened by the security guard, and then presented with a COVID questionnaire at the front desk of the dental clinic. Once patients completed the questionnaire, they could enter into the clinic area to be seated. Patients were not allowed to bring family members into the clinic waiting area unless it was a parent or legal guardian. Once the patient was in the clinic chair, the modified treatment consisted only of hand instruments, not power instruments like the cavitron and the piezo.
Despite these changes, our class remained motivated to excel as dental hygienists. These scenarios prepared us to be more accommodating and flexible with real-world situations that may occur in the future. These obstacles will make future modifications in the dental office easier to manage. In the words of our Dental Hygiene program director, Christine Walsh, “Just roll with it!”
How I currently spend my time in the Dental Hygiene program has become radically altered from what my ideas originally were. I never expected that I would be sharing with you what gets me through to the next step, but…
Tomorrow is a destination I hope to arrive at successfully, moving forward and overcoming obstacles no matter how big or menial they may be. It is a decision on direction, because staying put or giving up is never an option. In the moments ahead, I plan to be triumphant in pursuit of my future. I think of the poverty that I have escaped. I think of my family and friends who rely on my completing every task to my greatest ability. I think of the health and hope that fill my life and for so much more, I am grateful! When I think of my reasons to continue, I think of me, and I think of you and I see tomorrow, where we get to the next step and are continuing on. Tomorrow can be shaped by all the things that you think, say, and do. Today, you survived. Today, you get to choose. When you are asked to share what gets you through, my hope is that you realize the magnitude of your individual worth and just how much TOMORROW NEEDS YOU.
Even the simple act of waking up brings on uncertainty and anxiety, as COVID-19 reintroduces itself each morning. Whether I am going to the dental clinic to don extra, claustrophobic layers of PPE to protect myself and others, or to the grocery store to follow one-directional arrows as though I were in a video game, I am uncertain of what is happening in this world. However, there is one thing of which I am certain: this pandemic challenge has the ability to push me out of bed and look forward to the day.
Prior to Covid-19, I solely focused on making sure a person’s physical smile was bright, clean, and healthy during clinic. Today, I am able to shift my attention upwards slightly, to the smile people display with their eyes. I come into the dental clinic and hang my own anxiety on the back of the door. I seat my patients and look them in the eyes, for their eyes have much to say. I continue to choose to show up and sit chairside with each patient, giving them my undivided attention. Focusing on their overall health, oral health, and mental health is an integral part of my day. I understand the anxiety, I understand the uncertainty, and I understand the important connection between oral and overall health. When the appointment comes to an end, and my patients place their masks back on, it is that smile we exchange with our eyes that keeps me certain that I am where I need to be.
We hope the thoughts shared by our amazing students will encourage to explore the Dental Hygiene program at Goodwin University. To learn more, please visit www.goodwin.edu/majors/dental-hygiene.
Christine Walsh, RDH, MS, is the program director and assistant professor of Dental Hygiene at Goodwin University. She has served as a dental hygienist for more than 20 years in both the public health sector and private practice.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.