Antonia Lemons loves what she does. The 36-year-old started out as a dental assistant in 2002. In 2015, she went back to school at Fortis College in Smyrna, Georgia, and she graduated as a dental hygienist in 2017.
She works at Midtown Dental Center in Atlanta.
Why did you get into this line of work?
I enjoy helping people and wanted to be in the healthcare profession but I knew nursing was too bloody for me, so I went the dental route. Plus I really enjoy seeing people smile.
Did you always want to become a dental hygienist?
I have wanted to be a healthcare professional since I was in high school. I actually enjoyed going to the dentist as a kid. And I liked the uniforms. As a hygienist, you can still have style with your uniforms. I wanted to be cute!
What does a typical day look like?
I arrive in the office and look at my schedule for the day. Then I begin to plan for the day. I make sure my rooms are stocked with supplies and I review my patients’ health histories. Then we have a staff huddle and start the day. I typically see about five to seven patients per day.
A typical schedule may be me seeing four patients who need 50-minute regular cleanings, plus two who may need deep cleanings that usually take 1.5 to 2 hours. Before I leave for the day, I clean up and see if other staff members may need help.
What do you like most about your job?
The satisfaction of removing dental calculus or tarter from peoples’ teeth! I also love talking with my patients and educating them about oral health. I love watching them smile when they leave.
When patients cancel without warning — out the blue. I hate that.
What’s the most common misconception about being a dental hygienist?
That dental hygienists just help the dentists — that we are assistants — when in reality we are professional healthcare workers. A hygienist is equivalent to a nurse. In the dentist’s office, the relationship between the dentist and the hygienist is equal to a doctor’s and a nurse’s relationship. Just like nurses, hygienists have to complete continuing education courses throughout the year to keep licenses current.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
That you have to be mindful at all times of how you sit and stand and hold your instruments. This is so that your body won’t break down from bending over every day and being on your feet all day. You have to be mindful about how you hold your instruments so you don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome or hurt a patient in any way. It’s important to pay attention to ergonomics.
How did you train to become a dental hygienist?
I graduated with a high school diploma. I applied to Fortis College and completed prerequisite courses. And then I enrolled in dental hygiene classes, which included completing a certain number of hours in a dental clinic on campus. I graduated through the accelerated program, in two years and six months.
What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
You must be a people person and able to deal with all kinds of personalities. It’s important to make the patient feel safe, comfortable and glad they came to the office.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I would be a wedding or party planner. I love working with my hands, being creative and interacting with people. And — like I said — I love seeing people smile!