Debra Zafiropoulosat was going about her daily work as a dental hygienist when she noticed a white spot on the lip of one of her patients. That’s not her usual territory — normally dental hygienists focus on the teeth and gums — but it didn’t stop Debra from mentioning it to the woman.
It was a good thing she did, too. The woman had it checked out and biopsied, and it turned out to be mouth cancer. This story has a happy ending, though. Thanks to Debra’s fast thinking, the cancer was treated before it could go any further than that one spot.
When Debra recounted this story to the dental hygienists at a recent event hosted by Dr. Lindsay Limbaugh of Limbaugh Orthodontics, she knew the other women and one man in attendance would understand why it was so important to check everything out.
While it wasn’t a tooth or gum problem exactly, it could have easily led to much more severe health problems.
“They do oral screenings for that, so they may be able to save a life,” Dr. Limbaugh said. “Oftentimes they take blood pressure to make sure everything is okay there. Of course, it may be sky high if the patient is scared.”
Once a year, Dr. Limbaugh hosts a special night for all the area dental hygienists. This year they went to Cyn Shea’s for a night of chips, salsa and even a cerveza or two.
The night always includes a speaker, someone whose talk qualifies for the continuing education credits dental hygienists must get each year.
It’s the least they can do for the people who keep dentists’ offices up and running throughout the year.
While Dr. Limbaugh doesn’t have hygienists in her orthodontics office, she’s eternally thankful to the ones who work in dentists offices and keep her patients’ teeth clean between braces and retainers.
“They’re the ones that are with the dental patient the longest,” Dr. Limbaugh said. “They have to do a thorough job, but at the same time, make sure that the patient has a good experience in the chair.”
Flossing and Phobias
There are some careers that are imperative and thankless all at the same time — like nurses, veterinary aides, administrative assistants and dental hygienists. The majority of patients spend more time with the hygienist than with the actual dentist, but hygienists are often overlooked when it comes time to say thank you.
Dr. Limbaugh wants the yearly celebration to assure all of them that they are appreciated.
Think about this: Dental hygienists have to see people who brush and floss regularly, and they also have to see the ones who don’t ever pick up a toothbrush. According to one survey, only half of Americans floss daily, and only 49 percent of men brush their teeth twice a day. That’s a lot of teeth that go dirty for long periods at time.
On top of that, the hygienists are responsible for dealing with people who have odontophobia — fear of the dentist — a condition that affects roughly 15 percent of the population.
“There are so many people that are afraid to go to the dentist,” Dr. Limbaugh said. “So, if they can find a dental hygienist that they trust and that they like, they are so much more willing to go there and be able to take care of their teeth … Taking care of your oral health is related to so many other diseases that are linked.”
That’s weird, but true. Part of Debra’s presentation was on the other diseases that are a result of bad dental hygiene, like heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
The Limbaugh Orthodontics staff sends out invitations to dental hygienists all over the area inviting them to one night of networking, learning and lighthearted fun, according to Dr. Limbaugh.
And this year, it was all smiles (pun emphatically intended) when they realized just how many door prizes there were to hand out. Local businesses donated gifts of everything from boutique clothes to gift certificates for Botox.
There are male dental hygienists, but the majority are female. That’s something Dr. Limbaugh relates to as a fellow working mother.
“When you are a mom and a wife, you go to work and then you tend to your family,” Dr. Limbaugh said. “This is a good time for them to get together.”
So the next time you’re attempting to relax in a dentists chair, be sure to thank the dental hygienist before you go. Just don’t try to do it while they’re working. If your hygienist is knuckle-deep in your mouth, all your appreciative attempts may not be understood.
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