How do you feel when you invest a lot of effort into educating a patient, only to have the doctor say everything looks great? How frustrated are you when you treatment plan a patient for scaling, only to see a coworker choose to perform a prophylaxis on them instead?
One of the most frustrating things hygienists experience is having other clinicians discredit their patient recommendations. When such disunity exists in dental teams, confusion and frustration follows. It’s better to have cohesion, which unites teams and increases patient trust and compliance.
Having a cohesive dental hygiene team creates value. Hygienists who function as a unit can stabilize and encourage each other and enhance patient care. It’s important to empower hygienists to maintain their clinical autonomy and not be replicas of one another. Similar to a musical group that harmonizes and supports each other, our fellow hygienists can help us perform much better.
Like other resources in a dental office, this needs to be developed. By investing the effort into building a hygiene team, dental teams will see an increase in job satisfaction, patient compliance, and streamlined workflow.
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Roadblocks to cohesion
- Working independently. Many of us finished school lacking full confidence but entered the operatory and created a workflow and style that worked for us, never to be evaluated again. As we are usually alone with our patients, we rarely get real-time feedback from experienced professionals. But reality is that many of us develop ineffective habits or communication styles.
- Poor balance of time and priorities. With a busy dental office schedule, many teams do not block out enough time to discuss a standard of care and how each team member can contribute to the office mission. Dentists and practice managers often have so many other things on their minds they may leave “hygiene things” to hygienists and not create time for these conversations.
- Fear of difficult conversations. Egos and the fear of hurt feelings can be a roadblock to open discussions regarding improving patient care. Most of us believe that our way is the best way, otherwise, why would we do it?
How to build cohesion
When teams consist of clinicians interested in optimal patient care and professional growth, building a cohesive team is very attainable. By creating a culture of open communication and learning, dental offices can overcome barriers and create a collaborative and consistent approach.
Here are some easy-to-implement ideas for getting your hygiene team on the same page.
- Schedule frequent lunch and learns. Many companies will send their representatives to teach your team about their products and buy you lunch. Some companies to contact include Waterpik, Bristle, Probiora, and Sensodyne. After the presentation, the team can discuss if they’d like to implement the product into the practice or not.
- Observe one another. If there’s a cancellation, visit your fellow hygienist’s operatory and see what you can learn from them. Do they use an illustration for patient education that you’d like to try, or do they have a method of instrumentation that you could imitate? We all have tips and tricks that can help each other. Humility helps us recognize that we always have room for growth, no matter how experienced we are. Make sure you commend them for the good things you see them do.
- Schedule in-house study clubs. Schedule a time when each hygienist can share a study or an article that they’re excited about and discuss how the information might help patients. It’s fun to talk with people who have similar interests about what’s been working well for patients.
- Attend CE courses together. CE courses are great opportunities to switch up the scenery, get out of the office, and fuel your knowledge.
- Have a written standard of care. Once a decision is made about what standard of care will be most effective, put it in writing and stick to it. Each team member will have a reference point or guide on when to treat something and what to use for treatment. You’ll need some backup and endorsement from your leadership team. This is the most effective way to keep teams on the same page and to train new team members.
Team members may occasionally be resistant to change. While unfortunate, not everyone is meant to work together. Hygienists who don’t have an interest in collaborating with the team may thrive in a small office where they’re the only hygienist. That’s OK; there’s a space for everybody.
If we think of our coworkers like members of a musical band, we realize that we’re better together, synchronized and playing the same tune. Our patients benefit because when they hear consistent messaging, they own their diagnosis and are more accepting of their treatment plans. We can rest assured that if our patient isn’t in our schedule, we know they’ll still be well taken care of.
I challenge each reader to find a way to create more cohesion in their team, increase their joy at work, and improve the patient experience. I would love to hear from you about what you’re doing in your teams to create cohesion.
Olivia Bodunde, RDH, is a highly accomplished clinical hygienist with 15 years of experience who excels in clinical management and leadership. She takes great joy in mentoring fellow hygienists, guiding them to become better clinicians. An avid advocate of continuous learning, Olivia actively seeks opportunities to expand her expertise and leave a lasting impact on the dental community. To work together, you may contact her at [email protected] or on social media @oliviatalkshygiene.