30 Seconds With Hygienist Michaela O'Neill

A quick chat with Michaela O’Neill reveals a hygienist with a passion for her clinical role, Italian family lunches and a love for laughter.

michaela oneill Michaela O’Neill qualified from King’s College Hospital in 1991 and took up a staff hygienist post there on graduation. Having worked in a variety of different types of practice from private, NHS and hospitals in London, she returned to Belfast in 1998 taking up a tutors post at Queens University.

On returning, Michaela gained FAETC and taught at Queens University Belfast School of Dental Hygiene, sometimes treating patients in a consultant clinic and has been involved with research projects at Queens University as well as maintaining a part-time clinical role in practice over the years. Michaela represents Northern Ireland at national level on the BSDHT council, sits on the executive council and is an honorary member of the Irish Dental Hygienist Association.

How many DH&Ts do Salivary testing?

There are different types of saliva testing available. Bacterial identification that normally takes two weeks to get result, can be price prohibitive, and will only identify those strains that culture, or a new test for virulence proteins specific to A.a and P.g. This takes 10 minutes, is specific and can identify active disease. Both types can be undertaken by DH&Ts.

Has the dental profession neglected screening in the past?

I feel our initial assessment and dental exam are a series of screening tests. We all use the BPE, visual examination and medical/social history forms. So my answer is no, we haven’t neglected screening in the past. But now we have other screening tools, we can add to our examination to enhance our ability to effectively and appropriately treat our patients.

Who has inspired you most?

My mum, who showed me it’s never too late to learn when she specialised as a fracture nurse in her 60s. And my dad who taught, became an MLA, a human rights commissioner, is still working, and showed me how your career keeps developing when you’re passionate.

How does the UK compare to the US re: screening in practice?

Most periodontal practices in the US will use saliva testing regularly. But we use many different types of screening in the UK successfully. I think we will catch up.

Is screening good diagnosis or a patient motivator?

Screening is a process of identifying apparently healthy people who may be at increased risk of a disease or condition. They can then be offered information, further tests and appropriate treatment to reduce their risk and/or any complications arising from the disease or condition. The results can be used as a motivational tool if the patient’s risk has a reduced due to the implementation of advice or treatment carried out.

How easy is it to incorporate into a 20-minute hygiene session?

Very easy; the saliva sample is taken at the initial assessment, the test is left to its own devices and the results take 10 minutes.

Where and when do you feel you have been the most successful in your career to date?

I think I was successful at teaching; I really loved it. I spoke at the IFDH in Glasgow 2010 that certainly was a benchmark in my career. And the fact I still enjoy my clinical work after all this time is proof that I was successful in choosing the right career for me.

Have you had any unusual experiences in your career?

I used to work in a practice in West Yorkshire and was flown from Belfast every week. Made me feel very jet set!

What frustrates or excites you about the profession?

I would want everyone to stand up for what they believe in, be part of things and have their voices heard as apathy really frustrates me. What elates me about our profession is that the patient is still our primary focus; we still care. I am also very proud of the intelligent, forward thinking people who give so much of themselves to better our profession.

What are the three things you wish you’d known when you began your career?

• It takes time to be a good clinician
• Membership of your professional body keeps you interested and updated
• Believe in yourself, you know more than you think you do.

What do you do to relax?

I’m part-Italian so I love having family and friends over for long leisurely lunches. I also love losing myself in a good book.

What is your motto in life?

I have three mottos.
1. Do unto others as you would have done unto you
2. You only get out of something what you put into it
3. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

What couldn’t you do without?


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