An ancient Japanese philosophy brings inspiration to a new course for dental hygienists and therapists


Successful dental hygiene business coach and trainer, Siobhan Kelleher, explains how she and fellow dental hygienist, Gemma O’Callaghan, have found a way to help their colleagues re-connect with their professional ‘why’ and increase their career satisfaction.


It’s a rare inspirational moment when you come across an idea which chimes in completely with your way of thinking. This happened to me recently when I came across the ancient Japanese philosophy of ikigai (pronounced eye-ka-guy).


The word ikigai translates roughly as ‘a reason for being’. According to those born on Okinawa, the Japanese island with the most centenarians in the world, our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning. Those who have studied the inhabitants of Okinawa believe that the key to their longevity is their healthy lifestyle - which includes a natural, healthy diet and a simple life outdoors - and also the ikigai that shapes their lives and keeps them active and fulfilled to the very end.


We all have an ikigai hidden inside us and finding it often requires time and patience. It involves identifying and combining four central reasons for doing what you do: what you love; what you are good at; what the world needs; and what you can be paid for. If you can find that one calling which combines all four, you have found your ikigai. It sounds so simple!


More than a job

When fellow hygienist, Gemma O’Callaghan, and I came across the ikigaiphilosophy, we both felt it chimed remarkably well with the calling that so many of us have to the role of dental hygienist and therapist. It is a vocation and those who practise it are passionate about getting the message of the importance of oral health to their patients.


As a profession, we know that patients who have excellent oral hygiene benefit from better overall health and wellbeing. We also know that combining evidence and clinical expertise together with the patients’ needs, will result in a healthier more positive outcome. Taking the time to involve patients in the diagnosis of their oral health can assist in helping transfer ownership of their oral care to the patients themselves.


Knowing that we have something the world needs - the advice and skills to help patients maintain good oral health for life - is incredibly inspiring, but sometimes it is difficult to apply these within the parameters of our roles in UK dental practice.


Finding my ikigai

Although I didn’t call it that at the time, I found my ikigai when I relocated to Ireland about a decade ago in the middle of the recession. It was then that I founded my business,, in answer to the lack of hygienist jobs available. I decided to explore attracting patients into my practice by creating dental health workshops that were transferable and delivered in different environments within the community. Considering that at the time only about half of Irish citizens were attending a dental practice, this service would aim to tap into the other half and bring the message of the importance of oral hygiene to a wider community.


It worked, and I have been running a successful hygiene practice within Smiles & More Dental Practice in Little Island, Ireland, ever since. The aim - to make oral care accessible to all. In addition to my practice, I was also spurred on to develop and run a successful hands-on CPD training company called with my partner, Kellie O’Shaughnessy. Together, we are passionate about bringing education opportunities to dental professionals, with particular emphasis on hands-on training and the importance of taking a team approach to patient care.


Right from the start of my career in 2002, I followed my instincts and refused to compromise, believing that I should do the right thing and the rest would follow. It worked for me in the end, but it was by no means an easy ride.


NSK Ikigai

Inspired by ikigai and spurred on by our own experiences, Gemma and I, in collaboration with NSK, have put together an oral hygiene programme that has been specifically developed to help our fellow dental hygienists and therapists discover their own ikigai.


The NSK Ikigai Oral Hygiene Programme one-day course centres around exploring each delegate’s ikigai with a view to helping them develop more confidence, energy and motivation to enhance their career and oral care practice.


After engaging in an interactive ikigai workshop, the morning session will take delegates through a periodontal disease assessment and diagnosis alongside the treatment and management of patients, including the new classification. From a business aspect, we’ll also discuss the importance of communication when striving for practice growth and increased profitability.


The afternoon will be a hands-on session looking at sustainability in practice and different modalities such as ultrasonic scaling, powder therapy and air polishing, including live demonstrations. Together, we will bring all the latest evidence for the treatments our profession provides and show delegates how to negotiate for a better working life and environment.

  • More confidence, energy and motivation to develop their career and oral care practice;
  • A deeper understanding of current oral hygiene principles and how to maximise earnings;
  • A greater sense of fulfilment by being in control of their daily practice;
  • An understanding of how to reduce stress and frustration;
  • Clarity about how to build more effective working relationships.


Ultimately, the programme offers a new way of working which will enable delegates to deliver exceptional oral care and find a deeper level of career satisfaction.


The NSK Ikigai Oral Hygiene Programme one-day course will be held at  

NSK’s UK Headquarters in Stevenage on Saturday 30th November 2019.


To find out more: visit or email .










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