I work as the head dental hygienist in a Washington, D.C. dentist’s office. Anywhere around D.C., you’re going to get all the high profile politicians coming in. Throughout my career, I’ve worked at over 50 dentist’s offices in the greater D.C. area.
I used to do a lot of temp work – especially when the economy was better, you could just find well-playing temp work and have lots of flexibility. Whenever I temped at periodonist offices, there’d be Senators and Supreme Court Justices who needed gum work. I guess they’re too busy running the country to floss. Lobbyists, on the other hand, care a lot about their teeth. A lot of them want cosmetic dentistry.
I’ve seen a lot. Once, I flossed a pubic hair out of a guy’s mouth. Oh god, yes, I’m sure it was a pubic hair. I almost said something, but I decided it’d be better if I didn’t.
One dentist that I temped for, and another that I knew of, molested teenage girls while they were under laughing gas. It was a huge national news story. One fled the country and the other ended up in jail.
I worked for another dentist who had a substance abuse issue. He got suspended by the DEA. The guy who worked in the same office before him was convicted of insurance fraud and then committed suicide — I’m telling you, that office was cursed.
One thing people don’t realize about dental hygienists is that we get paid more than nurses. But people treat like us we’re dental janitors, not trained specialists. The K Street lawyers are really the worst. They come marching in – often quite late – and will be very demanding. They’ll say they need to pick up their cellphones while they’re in the chair. They act like it’s such an inconvenience to get their teeth cleaned. Then, when the dentist comes in after I do the cleaning, they’ll suddenly be very nice. They’ll say, “Oh how are your kids? We just bought a new beach house,” and so on. It’s like I’m not worth talking to.
Lobbyists and elected politicians tend to be a little better, because they have to be charismatic as part of their jobs. When I first started out I’d be intimidated, having close contact with someone I’d seen yesterday on TV. But I got over it quickly. I don’t feel like, oh, this is a governor so I have to treat him differently.
Dentists are not typically very good at running businesses. A lot of them get in over their heads buying equipment. Most dentists really are running businesses – and they don’t get much training for that in dental school. One class, maybe. To be a good dentist, you have to be good with people, a good technician, and you have to be pretty good at running a business. Most people don’t have all three. A lot of them are also really sloppy bookkeepers.
One last thing is that a lot of the time the wife is the problem. And of course I’m saying the wife because there really aren’t that many female dentists. Anyway, a lot of times there is a wife who is really pressuring the husband to make more money. I’ve seen wives who come into the office just to make a scene. They’re trying to micromanage a business that isn’t even theirs. We all know about the dental wives. They can be a real horror.
As told to Hillary Reinsberg.