Revitalizing Dental Hygiene Passion: Rediscovering Your “Why”

burnout in the dental industry dental hygiene dental hygienist finding your why future of dental hygiene overcoming burnout work life balance for hygienists Jan 28, 2022

Revitalizing Dental Hygiene Passion: Rediscovering Your “Why”

by Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.


“Why am I still in hygiene?” or “How can I  get out of clinical practice?” might be just two of many statements you have heard (or said) as a dental hygienist over these last few years. These are understandable questions in light of Covid-19 and the stress to dental professionals that has come with it. In fact, according to a survey in the Journal of Dental Hygiene in 2020, 8% of dental hygienists have left the workforce due to the onset of the pandemic. 1


But what if instead of asking yourself how to get out of the Op or why you are still in hygiene, maybe you ask yourself why you decided to be a hygienist in the first place?  Think about that for a moment and go back to the good old hygiene school days.  Do you remember how excited you were to be accepted into the program?  Do you remember how committed you were to your studies, how much social time you missed, how many tears you cried, and how stressed you were so that you could become an RDH?  Before you read more, take a few minutes to remember those days.


Recently, I accepted an adjunct dental hygiene faculty position at a local college.  Being among the students reminds me of how I was once so excited to become a dental hygienist.  I see that excitement (and a little stress) in each and every one of the students today.  But they all know their ‘why’, their reason for being there, for working so hard, for missing social time, for putting up with stress.  And their ‘why’ keeps them there for every clinical and every class. 


So, do you still know yours?


Have You Lost Your ‘Why’?


In the time between hygiene school and now, have you lost your love for hygiene?  Are you questioning your career choice or looking to get out of clinical practice? You aren’t alone if your answer is a frustrated, “Yes”


However, maybe that person who loved hygiene and worked so hard to become an RDH’ is still there but just needs to be rediscovered.  And rediscovering your ‘Why’ might reignite your passion for patient care and revitalize your career.  Isn’t that worth investigating? 


Rediscovering Your ‘Why’


Reconnecting with the reasons you chose to be a hygienist is the first step to finding your reasons to love hygiene again. But it may not be enough after all these years.  You may also  need to get rid of what is holding you back and discover what makes you feel empowered and fulfilled in your career.


  • Avoiding ‘Half-Way Hygiene’ - Recently, I took a course taught by Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, a hygienist and motivational speaker.  According to her, “Halfway hygiene is the concept that as hygienists are extremely knowledgeable and aware of what a difference we can make, but we are often pigeonholed into the scale-and-polish prophy model.”2  Have you found yourself in the ‘scale & polish pigeonhole’?  If the answer is Yes, no wonder why you might be feeling burnout. But it isn’t too late to find your professional passion again!

Revitalizing your clinical practice takes work that involves overcoming burnout, setting goals, and always moving onward and upward rather than staying in the rut of the same old-same old hygiene days of giving patients endless prophy paste flavor choices.


  • Overcoming Burnout - I’m currently reading a book called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Negoski that Amanda Hill recommended in her course.

 In it, the authors lay out the three components of burnout: “Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased sense of accomplishment.”3  

Sound familiar? Can you relate to any of those feelings?  I admittedly can once in a while.  

Although you surely know what you can and should do for your patients, you may feel stuck.  Your skills  go way beyond scaling and polishing yet you might be stuck in that daily clinical hamster wheel, right?  We have probably all been there at some point.  

Overcoming those feelings of burnout requires recognizing it first and then taking action.  Once you know you are there, you must find positive inspirations and goals to move out of the rut and toward a revitalized career fulfillment.


  • Setting SMART Goals - Having goals for career betterment is great but having a plan is even better.  In the hygiene school where I work, students are encouraged to make a treatment plan using the SMART method.  

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.  

We don’t have to be students to follow that SMART method of planning our professional goals now. So, maybe after reading this article, get a piece of paper and draft your SMART goals, “I want to…{ ? }”  You can fill in the blanks!



  • Committing to Life-Long Learning - So much has changed since we first entered the dental hygiene field.  Staying up-to-date on the latest in dental research, technologies, patient education, and advancing your dental hygiene practice through networking can be an effective way to rediscover your ‘why’.  


  • Continuing Education - Ask yourself this: Do you take CEs to fulfill your licensure requirements or to fulfill your zest for knowledge?

If your answer was the former, I challenge you to go outside the box and take more CEs than you need and pick topics that you know least about right now.  New dental technologies such as laser dentistry and  AI diagnostics are making it an exciting time to be a dental professional so take the time to soak up all of the knowledge about it that you can.


  • Professional Networking - Another great way to dial into what makes you tick as a hygienist is to talk with other dental professionals outside of your office.  You can get involved with professional organizations such as the ADHA, AADH, and PCOH.  You can also find a number of online groups on social media as well.


  • Heading Back to School - Maybe after all of your soul searching, you still find yourself ready to move away from clinical practice. In that case, you may want to consider going back to school to get an advanced degree that could lead you toward teaching, research, consulting, or even management.  These days, going to school while still working is easier than ever with flexible online education options. 

You can do it!

Feeling Revitalized!


The truth is that dental hygiene is not an easy career but is an important one for our patients.  Remember, you worked really hard to get here and owe it to yourself to follow your career to its fullest potential.  Knowing when to take a step back and reexamine your current situation can help.  Reflection can help you avoid pitfalls of the dental field and decrease burnout. 

But finding ways to reignite our RDH fires through self-reflection and simple goal setting can set you up for years of gratification and contentment in your dental hygiene career.  

Join Us for the Hygiene Summit

*Early Bird Special Until 4/1/22 for $25 off of registration, originally $65*

All levels of dental hygienists are invited to join us for the Hygiene Summit held at The Hotel Hershey on April 9th, 2022, held from 8 am - 12:30 pm.

Guest speakers include Angie Lehman RDH, COM®, Dr. Chris Balaban DMD MSC FACD, plus a panelist of 3 dental professionals.

Click Here to Sign Up



Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.

Suzanne is a Registered Dental Hygienist in a private periodontal practice and adjunct faculty at a local college in Central Pennsylvania. After a thirty-year career in dental hygiene, Suzanne is now creating non-clinical projects involving professional enhancement, public health, and patient education. In addition to being a passionate dental practitioner, Suzanne enjoys teaching fitness classes such as Pilates, yoga, and indoor cycling, volunteering with the local dog rescue Pitties.Love.Peace and spending time with her family and their two rescued pit bulls, Rudy & Freya.


1.Gurenlian JR, Morrissey R, Estrich C, et al. Employment patterns of dental hygienists in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. J Dent Hyg. 2021;95(1):17-24. Accessed June 10, 2021.


  1. Hill, A., (2021). Let’s stop practicing ‘halfway hygiene'.

3. Nagoski, E., & Nagoski, A. (2019). Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. First edition. New York: Ballantine Books