Careers: Becoming a Dental Hygienist

Alexis Peterson, Co-Editor

I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Maria VanLanen, a local hygienist here in Green Bay. We discussed her experiences with the career and the impacts it had on her life. Dental hygienists are a crucial part of our health and I hope this article sheds light on this career for those who may aspire to it.

What is a common stigma you find about your career?

The most common misunderstanding I have found from patients is that the teeth cleaning process always will hurt because we ‘manhandle” them. However, this is not the cause, most patients hurt because we had to scrape away at lots of plague and fight off lots of bacteria, which is a result of negligence in brushing or not brushing over one area enough.

Why were you interested in this career?

I actually gained interest in being a dental hygienist during high school. I took up some job shadow opportunities, including this job. I really encourage younger people- if you are considering a job, shadow it! I asked many questions to the hygienist I was shadowing and fell in love with it.

What is your favorite part of the career?

One of my favorite aspects of this job was the work schedule- I work Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. This was attractive to me because I am very family-oriented and that schedule allows me to have a family with weekends! I also enjoyed how competitive it is- there are several further certifications you can get for procedures like anesthesia and nitro. It is highly competitive and you truly never stop learning.

What are some challenges in your career?

The biggest challenge is to be as empathetic and understanding as possible. I work to insure my patients feel less anxious and more prepared. I focus on “patient education” by explaining what procedures are needed, how it will be treated, and what they can expect.

What does the job look like on a day-to-day, pre- versus during- the pandemic?

The job isn’t very different- we usually wore masks and face shields or protective lenses while helping our patients. However, we used to provide a “polish” after we cleaned individual’s teeth- we no longer provide that. We have an everyday huddle to discuss different patient’s care, which is always lovely!

What is a valuable piece of advice you can offer to those aspiring to this career?

My best advice is to get a job in customer service! When you are in customer service, you learn to be empathetic and patient with customers who are less-than-pleased. In this job, I often encounter people who are understandably unhappy with being in our office. That job will also train you to work productively in a fast-paced and intense environment.

Thank you, Mrs. VanLanen, for taking time to meet with me. It was a pleasure to speak with you regarding your career as a Dental Hygienist.