A hygienist everyone can admire

Keeping the hygiene vibe strong in the dental office

by Valerie Gagnon, RDH, BS/M

What? Social networks talk about us? "Dental diva?" Really? How can we promote our positive role when we see photographs and postings referring to us as divas or perhaps more unflattering terms around the World Wide Web?

Helping the office promote a positive vibe with prevention is the first step. As hygienists we are dental providers, not only in scaling and polishing but in helping the office strive to keep patients well educated on their oral conditions, from the smallest of cavities to full-mouth reconstructions. We are among the front-runners in keeping the mouth in great shape. We need to remind the practice (in little ways) that our recare appointments matter just as much as the full-mouth case that is entering through the office door. That full-mouth case may never have happened without our help or the help of the whole team together. We promote healthy mouths to help maintain healthy bodies. A few tips for keeping that positive vibe strong in the dental practice:

Look at other options in continuing education: marketing strategies, management, and sales. There are many classes that offer marketing strategies for dental practices. Sometimes you need to just do your research and see which class would best suit your practice. Ask your sales representatives; they have great resources to help you find the best classes to attend. Think outside the box and maybe take a college business class; that is a fantastic way to help develop that businessperson inside of you.

Use the intraoral camera, not only to point out the plaque, but also the patient's smile. Maybe suggest whitening or a smile makeover. Dust off that intraoral camera and start using it on all of your patients. Take pictures of their smiles and leave them on the screen so patients can look at them and critique their own smiles; you will be surprised at what they will ask you. Take a photo of an older restoration, maybe a leaking amalgam, and ask them questions about what they see. Have them do the initial diagnosis. Most of the time, the patient will be curious to know how it can be repaired. That will create happy dentists as well as better relationships with patients. We need to build trust, and having patients own their care, rather than us telling them what they need, will make a huge difference to our practices.

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Prediagnose. There are many tools to help screen patients for dental health. The DIAGNOdent is a fantastic instrument that can help prediagnose pit and fissure caries of nonrestored occlusal surfaces.

Ask for referrals. Internal referrals are the best referrals. The patients are not only prepped to be there, but there is already a relationship built. It is said that most internal referrals become long-lasting patients as well. Ask the office manager or dentist about adding incentive for existing patients by adding a $50 credit to their account for every referral they bring in.

Online advertisement. Ask your patients to write some feedback on various websites about their experience at your office. It can be a simple five-star rating to a full write-up about how they had a great time at your practice. Discuss various websites that your office may want to target. Maybe suggest hiring a company that specializes in social networking.

Help the front desk by scheduling patients' next appointments or collecting the patient portion of fees. Don't hide from the front desk; embrace it. The staff will appreciate it and patients will own their appointments that you make for them. Whether it is a simple six-month recare or periodontal therapy, patients will be less likely to cancel since you built relationships with them during their visits. Also, know your fees and understand how insurance works. Ask the front desk person to train you; she/he will be glad to teach you how the insurance process functions. You will gain the ability to answer insurance questions easily and, again, build that relationship with your patients. You can ask the front desk person to tell you ahead of time if a patient's collection is due at the end of the appointment. When necessary, you can collect the patient's cash portion and relieve the front desk of some details. It will also help with accounts receivable. It's a win-win for all.

Find new ways to promote prevention to your patient. There are so many new and exciting things that you can do to help promote prevention in the office. A great thing you can add is a dental store. Stock it with exciting products that your patients cannot easily find elsewhere. Patients love to shop, and it gives opportunity for you to affect your patients' choice of products. You can stock it with fluoride rinses, xylitol products, or organic dental products. It will help with production for the dentist and help supply patients with healthy dental products at home.

Make it personal during their visit. Talk to your patients and see what they've been up to. Are they getting married, expecting their first child, or going on an exciting trip? Write it down and let the dentist know. This will help build trust and better relationships with your patients. It does not take long, just a few minutes before you lay them down and begin working. I've been in practice for the last 16 years, and I've asked every single patient how they are and what they've been up to in the last few months. That alone built long-lasting relationships with patients. Just having someone they can talk to will bring them joy, especially if you are the only one they can talk to.

Watch the clock. I've often been asked how I stay on time with everything I do. All I can say is that I watch the clock and manage what I need to do ahead of time. Many dentists, patients, assistants, and the front desk staff will thank you merely for staying on time. Simple time management steps can be taken:

  • Time how long it takes for bitewings
  • Time your periodontal charting
  • Time your scaling
  • Time your polishing
  • Time the dentist exams

These simple steps will help guide you in staying on time. I have timed myself to a T. From the moment patients sit in the chair and I ask how their day is going, my clock is running.

Look, listen, watch. Read about the latest products that are available to the practice. Look at the research that backs the new products. Things to look for might include price or ratings from other offices. You can ask your sales representative about new products and if you can get samples of any to test in the office. You might also ask if there is something new on the market that your practice may be the first to try. Suggest advertising the latest and greatest within the community.

Monthly newsletter. Be part of the monthly newsletter. Suggest having a hygiene article included. The newsletter can be printed on paper and mailed or, as is becoming more common, emailed to the patients. This creates less waste and it shows that your practice cares for the environment. The newsletter should be a team effort from everyone in the practice. The dental hygiene column can include topics on home-care methods or valuable information about oral health. You can add an article you may have read in a dental magazine, or include studies that come out on various dental topics that may interest your patients.

These are a few examples that can better establish you, the hygienist, as part of the team and give you the ability to build value within the practice and for your patients. There are many more examples of changes that can be made, but it is up to you to take the first steps. Remember to have fun while doing so. Maybe schedule a team meeting. Ask the staff to brainstorm ideas for a stronger team that can help the practice grow in your community. It takes only one person to make this move, and that person is you. I also recommend starting slowly and not with the full-blown process. Take baby steps into this venture. RDH

Valerie Gagnon, RDH, BS/m, has been in the dental community since 1992. She was in school finishing her dental hygiene degree at John Abbott College (an affiliate of McGill University) in 1996. In Montreal, Valerie was certified in myofunctional therapy and Quest dental management. After relocation to the West Coast, she pursued certification in soft tissue lasers and the use of the PerioScope in her current practice in Redmond Wash. In 2007, she left the United States for a little over a year to help open the first Westernized dental practice in the country of Oman. After her return to the United States she received her bachelor's in business management and is now pursuing her master's in adult education and training. She is currently part of a pilot program as a clinical educator.

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