Dental hygienists are at as much risk as dentists for disabling illnesses and accidents. They suffer accidents and illness at very comparable rates. Because their careers are often much shorter than their dental peers, disability may have a more profound effect on their lives. Disability insurance is available for dental hygienists, but is often ignored.  All members of the dental team are at risk and the challenges that they face are just as severe as the dentists who they work with.

Hygienists often suffer from disability related to their hands and wrists.  Seek professional/legal advice if you consider stopping working.  Do this before you stop working and the likelihood of your claim being challenged is significantly diminished.  We assume that you have a great disability policy and have been faithful in paying your premiums.  Of course if you are sick or ill, you may consider stop working at much shorter notice and file claim at your discretion.

The steps to take following a disabling illness or accident parallel those recommended for dentists. Since few practices are owned directly by hygienists, concentration on job security and future employment can be emphasized with less time spent on practice sale and ensuring continuity. We can consolidate the steps a hygienist can take in the event of disability.

Step One:  Take a deep breath. Take time to evaluate your situation. You have gone on vacation before, and a one-two week break in your job is not a problem. Your employer will take care of your patients and arrange for a substitute.

Step Two:  Face the fact that you are injured or ill. Understand that the most important thing you can do now is concentrate on recovery and your rehabilitation. you are the patient now and cooperate and follow your physician’s instructions. Make list of what you can do, not what you can’t do. Be prepared for emotional challenges. You will face anxiety, grief, anger, depression, and denial. By acknowledging that you will have these emotions you will be better prepared for them.

Step Three: Make the decision not to be broken by your situation. It’s ok to have a bad attitude at first, but adapt to your new reality and move on. Only you have the ability to change how you feel about your disability, so get moving and make good decisions. Your years of training provide a foundation of strength to lean on.

Step Four: Keep your employer informed on your progress. Your relationship with your employer is important. Remember that your employer is running a business and loyalty to employees will eventually come to its limit. A great employer will accommodate your situation and hold your position, but not forever. You may return at reduced hours and discuss that in detail with your employer.

Step Five: Ask for help. No one survives on their own. Seek advice and counsel from your friends and family. Even if you only talk about the weather, at least you are talking.  Strongly consider involving your peers since they know the day-to-day challenges you face in the practice of dental hygiene.

Step Six: Maintain all your licenses and certifications. You will likely be unsure initially of your long-term prognosis and ability to work. Restarting an expired license is often challenging and just temporarily suspending it or maintaining it are much cheaper and less time-consuming in the long run. Keep up to date with your continuing education requirements if possible, as well as your CPR requirement.

Step Seven: Start making good decisions. Get true perspective on your disability. How sick or injured are you?  Seek out second medical opinions and research your condition. You are your best own advocate. Take an active role in your rehabilitation and don’t slow down. Make smart financial decisions and involve an attorney and financial advisor at your discretion.

Step Eight: Contact your disability company and file a claim. Consider filing for social security disability. If your injury is related to your job you may eligible for workman’s compensation. Take some time, but these options may have time limits so don’t delay in starting the application process.

Step Nine: Develop a detailed recovery plan. Use input from your physicians on your progress and prognosis. If you can return to work, base the plan on an estimated timeline. Set a return to work date and contact your former employer or other potential employers for opportunities. If it looks like returning to your profession is unlikely, consider to transition to a related field. Sales, consulting, and hygiene education are just some ideas. Look into our website for more detailed ideas. Whatever you do don’t give up. You have value and can use your years of training to help yourself and others.

Step Ten: No one promised you a happy ending. Take pride in your survival. Your ability to adapt to your disability is the key to success. By adjusting to a new reality, you give yourself and your family hope for the future. The path you choose is wide open and each step you take gets you further on the road to recovery.  Your family will appreciate your determination to not only survive, but thrive in your situation. You are needed and can still contribute to others. Contact us for support and help, and tell other hygienist we exist.  Our team is ready to provide you with real assistance, support, and encouragement. Dental hygienists are an integral part of the dental team and we recognize your value.

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