I’m 44, some will say, “that’s so young!”, others will think, “I’ll have it all together by the time I’m THAT old.” But the big question is, is it too late to be what I want to be, do what I want to do? Or should I just coast to retirement?
I’ve been in dentistry for 30 years. I started when I was 15 and accidentally ended up working as a dental assistant for my pediatric dentist. I say accidentally because I thought I was applying for a job answering the phone, because back in 1990 what 15 year old wasn’t great at talking on the phone? But he apparently hired me to be a dental assistant and patiently trained me on the job. Thus began my path. After working in the office after school for a while, I became very interested in what the 2 hygienists were doing. They each worked a flexible part time schedule, had kids and seemed to truly enjoy being in dentistry. So I started looking at Dental Hygiene Programs and ended up at Old Dominion University in Norfolk VA where I earned my BSDH.
Upon graduation I, once again accidentally got my first hygiene job with a top notch cosmetic dentist. I was initially hired to help them out of a jam when their assistant went on bed rest and I had the long 3 month wait to see if I passed the dental hygiene boards but still had bills to pay. Then, as if by another accident (notice a theme here) their hygienist moved away unexpectedly and I had proven myself to be a bright, with it employee, so I slid into the hygiene chair. Not only was his dentistry immaculate, he invested in his team, thereby, investing in me. We went to conferences in Arizona, had regular visits with consultants, all took the Dale Carnegie Course on public speaking and more. I was able to not only grow as a hygienist, I had the opportunity to learn about myself, and at 21 it really put me on a solid footing as an up and coming woman in dentistry.
Then I fell in love……with a Navy officer, and my life took another turn. Not long after we were married the Navy moved us to California. We’d only be there for 2 years and the licensure process was so daunting that I opted not to get my California hygiene license but nannied and then baby #1 came along. Then we headed to Rhode Island where they thankfully had license by reciprocity and I temped for the 6 months we were there. Another move took us back to Virginia with baby #2 on the way and a husband that was gone ALL. THE. TIME. So my career that started out with a bang, started to putter along, with part time work, and temping. A few moves, another baby and many deployments later, we found ourselves in Germany for 3 years. I was clearly not feeling like a powerful woman in dentistry anymore.
This life that I happened into was full, full of kids, PTA, church, military groups, and moms’ clubs, but what happened to my career? Here we were, back in the states, my husband on the cusp of retiring from 26 years in the Navy, 1 kid in college, another quickly on his heels and the youngest entering high school. Did I miss my window to be amongst the women of dentistry while I was busy being president of the PTA and leading Bible Study? All the while maintaining an active hygiene license, keeping up with CE and having 1 toe in clinical hygiene. I looked to see what successful women in dentistry were doing and they had master’s degrees, were teaching, writing, leading hygiene departments and I was basically a stay at home mom. It was time for me to figure out who and what I wanted to be.
So I dove back into what I knew, clinical hygiene, and started looking for a job. But didn’t actually know how to look for a job anymore. The last time I did that I opened a newspaper and looked in the want ads. Did those even exist anymore?? So I decided to open a Linkedin account, because that’s what all the career minded people do, right? But that didn’t work, Linkedin didn’t know the difference between a Dental Hygienist and a Nurse. So I literally typed into the Google search bar, “how to find a job in dental hygiene” and this site called DentalPost.net was at the top. I clicked on it, made a profile and secured a job within a few days. I was back in the saddle! But was it the right horse??
While I will always have a love for clinical hygiene my body does not, and I’ve always felt like my gifts could be used to empower other women in dentistry. I started researching non-clinical hygiene jobs to see what people were doing. Did I need to go back to school? With 2 boys almost in college that did not financially seem like an option. Many of my other mom friends were taking jobs working at Hallmark or local coffee shops so they could earn a little bit but still have flexibility for kids. But that didn’t make sense to me, I could make more in 1 day of clinical hygiene than a whole week at Starbucks. So I just kept looking, learning and listening to podcasts like Beyond the Prophy and A Tale of Two Hygienists to see what others were doing with their careers. RDH Under One Roof happened to be around the corner from me in DC that year, so my good pal from hygiene school and I decided to go together. And that’s where another “accident” happened.
One afternoon on the exhibit hall floor I saw the DentalPost booth. I just had to tell them my job hunting story and how they helped me find my clinical job. How much I loved the assessments within the resume profile and how much their platform made sense! I talked to this pretty, tall, blonde lady and we hit it off right away. I happily recorded a video saying how DentalPost helped me. Then as we chatted more, I then learned that she was actually the CEO and founder of DentalPost, Tonya Lanthier, an RDH and impactful woman in dentistry herself. I asked her if she knew of non-clinical jobs in hygiene and she said, “do you want to work for me?” I replied, “um, sure!” Feeling absolutely bewildered and wondering what I had to offer her, but feeling like maybe this was my path back to being part of the cutting edge women in dentistry.
In the months that followed we created a role for me at DentalPost. I’m still working clinically on Mondays and have had the opportunity to try on lots of hats (or horses if we go back to the previous metaphor). I’ve gotten to travel, to write, to speak, to hang out on the exhibit hall floor, to network, to attend a retreat for Women in Dentistry, to truly have the opportunity to expose myself to all the amazing things women in dentistry are doing. I have found it to be a glorious community of people that want to support and uplift one another.
So I do not think that at 44 it’s too late. I’d also say that I don’t think any of the accidents were really accidents. My faith tells me it’s God’s plan and I was open enough to see the opportunities and embrace them. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I loved being home for my kids, and running the PTA and spouses’ clubs, but I’m so grateful to be in a profession where men and women in dentistry are open to giving opportunities to those of us with a little salt and pepper in our hair!