As I sit on this flight back home after a quick 36 hours in Great Falls, Montana, I simply cannot help but smile.
Arriving in this small airport, I was greeted by an eclectically artistic display of various taxidermized wild animals and the kind overhead greeting: “Welcome to Montana. We’re glad you’re here and if this is home for you: welcome home!”
I was incredibly honored to be invited to speak for the Montana Dental Hygienists’ Association’s Annual Session held at a quaint hotel and conference center as the gorgeous state of Montana enters the fall season. Let me begin by saying: the hospitality of this organization was far beyond anything I had ever experienced as a speaker and as such, it was truly awe-inspiring. From the care package waiting for me upon check in to the beautiful hand-crafted Montana RDH gear I was gifted at the podium, they sure know how to make someone feel welcomed and incredibly special!
As I approached the conference center, the MDHA had just concluded their session with the fabulous Sherri Lukes and they were enjoying a wine and cheese social… my kind of people! In between sips of rose, I was able to learn about the large but intimate state of Montana, and I was so impressed to be witness to the pride that these incredible hygienists have for their state and the work they do. I watched as “I Gotta Feeling” coursed through speakers during a fashion show to showcase a hygienist who opened a local scrubs store. I was truly in awe of the support amongst colleagues, which was palpable in the air.
After two glasses of wine, I was ready to turn in for the evening to get a solid night’s rest before a full day of speaking for this incredible group.
To my right, a smiling Crystal Spring approached me: “we’re going to see mermaids at a wine bar! Let’s go!” … and away we went.
Spoiler alert: I had heard that wrong – perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Crystal’s actual line was “we’re going to see mermaids at a DIVE bar! Let’s go!” Details, right?
We pull up to The Sip ‘N Dip in a soccer-mom van full of giddy (and wine-buzzed) hygienists and let me say: this “dive” bar did NOT disappoint.
You guys: they LITERALLY have a pool in which young women in bikinis and mermaid fins swim around. Grabbing a seat at the bar grants you an under-water view of the pool as the mermaids flip their fins, blow bubbles and pose for photos. Quite frankly, all that was missing was a disgruntled red crab and a dinglehopper – the flounder was delicious, though.
I sat amongst hygienists from all walks of life: seasoned hygienists, newer grads and everyone in between. Through giggles and sips of wine, I learned about the joy these hygienists have for their work, the dedication they have to their families, the silly stories of how they met and the excitement they have for their annual meeting which brings them together. As a fish bowl of a mysterious blue concoction with long straws passed amongst hygienists, I truly understood the comradery these women (and a few guy-genists) have amongst each other, and it was then that I remembered why these annual meetings are so important.
You see, we are so incredibly silo-ed in dental hygiene. For many of us, collaboration with the other hygienist(s) in the office is our only form of routine connection, and that is if we are lucky to have a colleague in the op next door. The annual session gives more than CE or a weekend away – it provides an opportunity to truly connect, share ideas, collaborate and rise together. I politely declined a sip of the mysterious fish bowl and headed to my room for a solid night’s sleep.
As I took the podium the next morning, I truly felt as though I was amongst friends. Within minutes of standing on the stage above them, I immediately felt compelled to step down, to be at their level and to be amongst them. I spent the next six hours delivering content in two of my favorite courses.
Rarely does a hygiene group actually enjoy an infection control lecture, however, I endeavor to make this dry topic fun. We spent the morning giggling together as we learned about how infectious diseases throughout time have helped us shape the protocols we have today. Comments like “I’ve never had so much fun in an infection control lecture” and “what a cool way to unpack infection control” had me realizing I really needed to bring it for the afternoon session.
We spent the afternoon discussing local anesthesia trends, techniques and troubleshooting, and I was simply in awe of how bright these hygienists are! They were engaged and hanging on the edge of their seats as this open forum-style course allowed for open discussion of troubleshooting as well as discussion of alternative techniques. I could have talked to them for far longer, but as with all good things, my course needed to come to an end.
I truly had an incredible time and will never forget the kind souls, bright minds and open hearts I met in Montana.
I left the Sip ‘N Dip with a new appreciation for mermaids, I left Montana with a curiosity around taxidermy and I left the MDHA annual session with a true admiration for the incredible work that our industry is doing to grow and rise.
Thank you to the incredible leadership of the MDHA for the honor of speaking for your association.