Liam Hollands

Liam is a soon-to-be second-year dental hygiene student at Teesside University. He is originally from Eastbourne where he worked as a dental nurse. He feels lucky to be studying alongside his wife, who is also on the course at Teesside!

When I was a dental nurse, people often asked me: “Are you going to study to be a dentist afterwards?” As a dental hygiene student at university, people often ask me: “Why aren’t you studying to be a dentist?” (Let’s call these people Gavin.)

Though I don’t particularly mind these questions, or let them bother me, it does make me think that dental professionals (other than dentists) are undervalued and misunderstood. The public should know that all dental professionals are valuable members of the dental team. We all have different roles to play, and we all contribute to the overall goal of providing our patients with the best possible care.

I chose to do dental hygiene because I want to make a difference in people’s lives and help to improve their oral health and overall health. Yes, I know Gavin would say that dentists do that too, but I like to think that hygienists do it with more passion! It seems obvious that the public needs to be told that dental hygienists and therapists are not just ‘backup dancers’ for dentists but clinicians in their own right. As a dental hygienist, I have the opportunity to provide preventive care, diagnose and treat oral diseases and educate my patients about oral health while helping them to develop healthy habits. All of this, by the way, can be done through direct access, so no need for those meddling dentists that Gavin loves so much (only joking, dentists!).

Being proud to be a dental hygienist should be normalised. I know the difference hygienists make to patients, and I am grateful that I will have the opportunity to do so as well. I have witnessed dental-phobic patients arrive with extremely poor dental hygiene and a determination to not see their dentist.

Then, after seeing a dental hygienist for a few appointments, they leave with good breath, a happy, healthy smile and an understanding that dental professionals are not so bad after all! The fact that dental hygienists aren’t dentists is one of our biggest strengths. It enables us to be less intimidating to those who fear dental treatment and slowly introduce a new and improved perception of dentistry to the patient, allowing them to ease back into the dental chair at their own pace.

So, does all of this knowledge change my answer when Gavin asks, “Why aren’t you studying to be a dentist?” Well, probably not, but I can smile behind my mask knowing that I am exactly where I need to be.

By Liam Hollands.