By Becky Smith, CRDH, EdD, FAHDA
2023-2024 ADHA President
August 13, 2023

I don’t recall thinking much about being left-handed or the challenges that being a “lefty” would entail. It’s an experiential problem – you think about it when you experience it.

Becky Smith standing outside waving with her left hand

“A Lefty Hello!” from President Becky Smith, CRDH, EdD, FADHA

We lefties experience little things throughout our lives that only other lefties can relate to. Using a spouted soup ladle is difficult because when holding it with your left, the pouring spout on the ladle is positioned away from you. Great for a right-handed pour, but not so much for a lefty. Cake knives from the local grocery store chain are right-handed. Handled coffee cups with cute sayings that show outward, only when held with your right hand. And when dining with friends, I have to grab the far-left end-of-table seat to avoid the plate shift and elbow bump with the righty sitting next to me.

School was fun too! I failed scissors in preschool, because the scissors were right-handed and in a classroom of righties, my teachers tried to force me to conform. Imagine walking into a classroom full of desks where the desk is on the right side of the chair. Spotting that left-handed desk and doing a smooth musical chair slide into that seat before another lefty did would make my day!

But then I moved on to elementary school where I had fantastic teachers who showed me how to turn my paper differently than the right-handed students, so that I would get the appropriate slant when writing in cursive. Because of this, I never had to bend my hand so that the fresh ink or graphite wouldn’t smudge when I wrote.

In dental hygiene school, I was lucky to have instructors who understood the “lefty dilemma.” In fact, one instructor was left-handed herself! I learned everything from the left side of the chair and the bracket tray was adjustable to the left as well. But every day I had to switch the op from a right-handed set-up to a left-handed one, and then back to a right-handed one at the end of the day. Why?! Because the right-handed student with whom I shared it and the instructors felt that it was my responsibility to do so because I was “the different one”, in the minority.

1996, Working on a patient on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, Florida

Looking back over my dental hygiene career, I can see so many things that right-handed clinicians take for granted. I worked at a right-handed chair that I was NOT permitted to adjust, so I ended up hurting the piriformis muscles in my lower back over time because I had to reach OVER to the right side and balance on my right butt cheek to reach instruments. I draped cords over the patient’s chest because the bracket table with the ultrasonic handpiece was on the right side and the cord was too short to run under the chair. I picked up the air-water syringe with my right hand and the saliva ejector with my left hand, then I switched them, crossing the lines, so that I was able to rinse and suction the patient at the same time. With countless cords on the floor and the dental light and suction unit on the left side, I couldn’t really position myself to work from anywhere except 12-2 o’clock, hurting my body in the process.

But I did find there was power in numbers. I was lucky enough once to work in a periodontal office where 30% of the employees were lefties! One of the periodontists, another dental hygienist and I, plus two of the front desk staff were lefties. There were a total of FIVE lefties in an office of 15 employees, which is rare since only about 10% of the world’s population is left-handed!

We lefties adjust our lives and our movements to a right-handed world every day and it can be exhausting.I still encounter challenges, even more so, as an educator. When I sit down to evaluate my right-handed students’ work, all of the issues previously mentioned above are happening at the same time – multiple times a day! I am the only left-handed instructor out of 14 full-time and adjunct instructors. In the class of 49 students for this fall, five are left-handed (there’s that 10%!), and the current second-year class has SIX lefties. I always look out for my lefty students because I know their unique struggles! I speak up for them when we have faculty meetings, and something might impact them differently. It amazes me when right-handed students and instructors LOSE THEIR MINDS when working at a left-handed chair for ONE day. We lefties adjust our lives and movements to a right-handed world EVERY day and, let me tell you, it can be exhausting!

Instead of letting frustration set in, I’ve always tried to have fun with it. I used to own a T-shirt that read, “If the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, only lefties are in their right minds.” I wore it so much that it was full of holes, faded and barely readable when I threw it out. My friends gift me lefty items – one was a mini-traffic cone that reads, “I may be left-handed but I’m always right.” True story!

So, while we lefties will always be in the minority, we’re also unique, pretty good at what we do and we’re adaptable because we’ve had to be our entire lives. I will leave you with this thought: Life without lefties wouldn’t be right…Lefties, Unite!