Compassion Counts: Being a Dental Hygienist during COVID-19

I am a Dental Hygienist.

I’ve been back in my Op since May. 

I’ve spent the last two months working in the #1-Rated most dangerous profession to work in during this COVID-19 pandemic (according to this article) and I’ve got some stuff on my heart.

I am aware that there has always been divisions, varying beliefs, ethics, political parties, etc. within our country.


I’ve watched this COVID-19 pandemic completely rip apart society.

I’ve also watched this COVID-19 pandemic completely rip apart my profession – and dentistry as a whole.

To see what COVID-19 has done to my profession has been heartbreaking. I’ve poured years into my profession. I’ve poured myself into my career and my patients. To see it turning into politically driven opinions and lobbying efforts for this or that has been incredibly challenging to witness.

First, I know my risks. I know what I signed up for. I know I am put within inches of people’s mouths on a daily basis. To put it simply, I create aerosols, potentially expose myself to blood and other infectious and dangerous diseases, and put myself at risk daily.

However, I also know my worth. I know that I’m just not a just “teeth cleaner.” I am educated in infection control and infectious diseases, and I can spot (and smell) infection from a mile away. I also know what happens if certain conditions and infections are left untreated. I know how various medical conditions can be exacerbated by neglect of the oral cavity. 

I know that I am essential. 

In fact, we (my entire dental team) are essential. 

Was it scary to return to work a couple of months ago? You bet. It was mostly the fear of the unknown that was scary.

But I returned informed and protected. I had just about every option of PPE available to choose from and utilize (I know this isn’t the case with all clinicians so I am very thankful to my Doctors/employers for making this happen).

I choose not to be fearful. Do I have a healthy fear of getting sick or possibly spreading a virus to my family, co-workers, and patients? You bet. But I choose not to let fear rule my life.

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” [2 Timothy 1: 7]

I rest my case in regards to returning to work, PPE, and essentialism. This post isn’t about that – this post is about the one thing I think some of us could benefit from in the midst of these heated debates about politics, masks, test results, lockdowns, and re-openings.

I’ve watched maskers and anti-maskers online and had them in my chair. I’ve heard various opinions day in and day out. I’ve heard all the reasons and opinions for masks vs. no masks. 

While one patient believes this is a big hoax and politically driven, my next patient is fearful to even step foot into our dental office (as if coming to the dentist wasn’t already an anxiety-inducing dilemma).

While one patient believes we should re-open everything, the next patient is stocking up for another lockdown.

While one patient can discuss false positives and inflated test results, the next patient can recite death tolls in every single state.

I’ve heard it all – solutions, problems, proposals, jokes, and rants.

It’s my job to make each patient feel comfortable and like their concerns are heard. So that’s what I do. 

On a daily basis…hourly basis even…I am thrust into varying beliefs. Masks vs. anti-masks, the “did you hear about this story or that story,” or the popular “I’m ready for all of this to be over with!”

I’m okay with being around different opinions and beliefs – for people who may think Dental Hygiene is monotonous, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Each patient is different…that’s what I love about what I do.

I have my beliefs, you have yours. Our beliefs may be the same or they may differ drastically.

But do you want to know my biggest belief? 


I truly believe that the majority of us have forgotten the simple art of compassion. 

Compassion is simple in theory, yes. But not always simple in practice.

When we encounter someone (online or in person) who doesn’t agree with us, we engage in comment threads in which we argue, name-call, and demean them endlessly…all to get a point for “our side.” 

We comment, “it’s pointless to argue with you,” and we keep commenting. 

We comment, “I’m just going to keep scrolling because I don’t agree with you,” then why comment to begin with?

We comment and continue to fight, complete with sprinkles of articles here and there that you know that person isn’t even going to open.

Good grief, where does it end? When does it end? 

Can we all agree that it’s okay to have different opinions? 

Can we all agree that compassion counts?

Can we all agree that one way we can get through all of this together is through kindness and compassion?

Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace…Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels.” [2 Timothy 2: 22-23]

Many Dental Hygienists have used this opportunity to leave the operatory and head into another career. Not me.

I am thankful to be a Dental Hygienist during this time. Being a Dental Hygienist in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is that much more reassuring that this is what I am called to do – Love one another as I have loved you” [John 13: 34].

Friends, if you’re tallying your scores…compassion counts. 


— Nina Rose Pena, MA, BSDH, RDH

2 thoughts on “Compassion Counts: Being a Dental Hygienist during COVID-19

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s