Kathy Bassett, BSDH, RDH, MEd- March 17, 2022

Women Who Have Inspired Me

Reflecting on my dental hygiene career, I have to start by saying I had the advantage of having a father who was a small-town dentist on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. What does that mean? First, I started working in his office when I was in Junior High (yep - no minor employment laws, no OSHA, no HIPAA). And second, I was exposed to nearly all aspects of dentistry from day one. There were no specialists in town, and it was quite a drive to Seattle for specialty care. By the time I was 14 years old I was assisting with cleanings (with an ultrasonic - go Dad!), general restorative procedures, root canals, third molar and full mouth extractions for dentures, and I even assisted with one of the very first types of implants available in the 70’s (NOT anything like implants today).

Then there was Judy Bright, RDH, a soft-spoken graduate of Yakima Valley Community College in the mid 70’s (among the first hygienists in the nation to be trained in local anesthesia). She was fairly tall, always piled her long dark hair in a neat bun on top of her head, and flashed a soft broad smile that welcomed each patient in to her operatory. She was the first dental hygienist I met and she brought this amazing career to my full attention, and I’ve never turned back.

I can still close my eyes and see my dad VERY SLOWLY depositing local anesthetics, with such gentle care throughout my eight years assisting in his office. While writing Local Anesthesia for Dental Professionals, this memory was a constant companion. I am a small-town girl who co-authored and mentored the publication of the first textbook on local anesthesia crafted for dental hygiene and dental students, an arena not previously entered by dental hygienists, let alone women. With the goal of creating a student friendly text, I was and still am blessed to have teamed up with forward-thinking hygienists and a dentist who connect as “equals.”

As I look back at the more than 50 years I've worked in dentistry (44 as a dental hygienist, 34 as a professor), I see my greatest sustaining inspiration as having been the students. I have my own stories of challenge and adversities, key role models over time, but today, it is the students who “keep on keeping on” that I admire. At my house we have two sayings when making decisions or facing challenges: “Let's do something today that we've never done before." and “Will it matter when you're 80?”

As I reflect on an infant lost to SIDS, a husband to a heart attack, family members to COVID, a baby delivered within hours after taking board exams, students who have been victims of domestic violence, a tuition lost during the final quarter of school when her husband snorted it up his nose in cocaine, a student living in her car with her two young daughters (and eating far too may Cheerios) before help was found, all the military wives who have pursued multiple licenses to have their families “six”, and the LGBTQ dental hygiene teacher who showed grace in a time and place when it was not ok to say "gay", they all humble and inspire me every day as they did something they had never done before. So, to the question “Will it matter when you're 80?”, I hope so.

- Kathy Bassett, BSDH, RDH, MEd

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