ArticlesEducationOral Hygiene

Don’t look back – look forward

By January 20, 2021October 5th, 2022No Comments

After such a challenging year for the profession, Siobhan Kelleher looks at the positives to come in 2021

Well, what a year 2020 turned out to be. As the year began, within weeks, it became clear that we were heading towards a global pandemic, and few of us could have predicted the unexpected and unparalleled events that lay ahead.

Dentistry has been hit hard by COVID-19, especially with the unprecedented closure of dental practices for so many weeks when we entered the first lockdown.

It continues to cause significant disruption to the provision of dental services and has left millions of patients without access to essential treatment and preventive oral health care.

Dental hygienists and therapists, many of whom are self-employed, have faced significant challenges in their attempts to return to work since practices started to reopen.

Like dentists, we remain in one of the most exposed and high-risk occupations concerning COVID-19, yet we are an integral part of the dental team in preventing and treating disease and maintaining oral health.

Ikigai educatorsComing together

When the lockdown was enforced, and dental professionals had to down tools, as a profession, we all felt somewhat bereft.

With our health and jobs at risk and anxiety levels at an all-time high, it became clear that we needed to reach out and support each other more than before.

Long before COVID-19, my colleague Gemma O’Callaghan and I recognised the need to support fellow dental hygienists and therapists reach their full potential and find a sense of wellbeing in their professional lives.

In 2019, with the backing of NSK, we set up the NSK Ikigai Oral Health Programme, bringing together a growing community of dental care practitioners (DCPs) sharing ideas and support through workshops and social media.

It’s designed not just to find new ways of delivering exceptional patient care but also to give dental hygienists and therapists the confidence and motivation to reach their true potential.

Changing with the times

Today, the NSK Ikigai Oral Health Programme has come into its own, although maybe not quite in the way we expected!

It is proving to be the ideal platform to reach out to fellow professionals and graduates whose crucial final months have been disrupted and whose future careers look uncertain.

With face-to-face events currently not an option, we have adapted to the times and moved the programme’s in-practice events online to offer virtual continuing professional development webinars, hands-on workshops and much more, which have seen a great response from the profession.

The NSK Ikigai Oral Hygiene Programme Facebook page, which now has more than 600 members, has been at the forefront of bringing everyone together, allowing like-minded dental professionals to share and discuss both the good times and the bad. Members can interact with Ikigai clinical mentors from all areas of dentistry via online interviews – with inspirational DCPs like Jocelyn Harding or Caroline Smith sharing their perspective and advice on how to thrive in the current climate.

It’s not all about learning and training, mind. Everyone’s professional and personal lives have been affected by the pandemic in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and the pressures on us are enormous.

We offer each other advice on all sorts of areas – from mask fitting, skincare tips for personal protective equipment wear and nutrition, along with one of our most innovative offerings, our highly-popular online yoga and anxiety workshops with Ikigai coach Susan Dennis – a chance to unwind and relax in the most demanding of times.

When Judy Caesley and myself presented ‘Embracing the new norm’, we never could have imagined we would be asked to present it to the Lithuanian Dental Hygienist Association.

Nina Lord, one of the Ikigai educators, ran several webinars on gut health and nutrition keeping us in balance.

Having already hosted a series of highly successful webinars and hands-on workshops in 2020, including our first-ever three-day virtual conference attended by nearly 300 dental professionals, we have much more planned for the coming year.

As soon as it is safe to do so, our in-practice hands-on courses will resume. For the first part of the year, we will run study groups virtually throughout the UK and Eire. Australia has also been following our progress and would like to implement the programme there.

Looking at a positive future

From a personal perspective, the current situation has shown me that people are amazingly resilient, even in the most difficult of times. Although the future remains uncertain for all of us, we learn to adapt to change and find ways to bounce back or come back even stronger than before.

With the wellbeing of patients uppermost in our minds, dental hygienists and therapists, with much appreciated support from the dental industry, the Ikigai Oral Hygiene Programme is ready to face the challenges that 2021 will bring and truly drive the profession forward to a new level of excellence.

As part of my master’s degree, I did a project on solution-focused coaching. It’s about starting from the here and now and standing in the solution, not the problem. Solution-focused brief therapy, created by de Shazer, is an approach to psychotherapy based on solution-building rather than problem-solving.

It explores current resources and future hopes rather than present problems and past causes.

I predict this approach will be beneficial over the coming years among dental care professionals.

Join us on Facebook @Ikigaioralhygieneprogram and Instagram @Ikigaioralhygiene.


Siobhan Kelleher RDHSiobhan Kelleher RDH

Siobhan is a multi-award-winning dental hygienist and a qualified personal and management coach. She is currently studying a masters in coaching.

She is the owner of and

She is the co-creator of the NSK Ikigai Oral Hygiene Programme.