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Dental hygiene clinical tips for achieving excellence in the operatory

Jan. 24, 2024
Continuing education, technology, personalized care, and a strong reputation will combine to help you thrive in your career. Patients will benefit from your knowledge.

If you’re a dental hygienist who wants to improve your communication and clinical skills, learn better time management, and enhance clinical outcomes, read on.

Knowledge is key

If you want to empower yourself and the patients you serve with knowledge, I suggest you subscribe to newsletters and dental hygiene magazines. These resources provide the latest trends, techniques, and advancements in our field.

If you’re passionate about a specific subject, share that enthusiasm with your doctor and let them know that you want to learn more. Ask if you can attend continuing education courses that will help you deliver outstanding care. You can share what you learn with the team.

Consider implementing a new chairside service into your practice protocol. This will ensure that you maintain clinical excellence.

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Creating value in the dental hygiene profession: A patient-centered approach

Talk about the oral-systemic link

It’s equally important to understand systemic health. Every patient deserves to know the value you bring when you treat them comprehensively. Dental hygienists are an essential piece of the oral and systemic health puzzle. Building a solid relationship with patients starts with your commitment to their care and overall health. Sometimes that means challenging them to take ownership, educating them, and being their advocate.

Leverage technology to increase efficiency

Using the latest advancements and cutting-edge techniques will help you be more efficient. Time management is necessary as you fight to get your time back throughout the day. Let technology be your friend. Keep hand scaling to a minimum and use ultrasonic or piezo scalers instead. Your intraoral camera is an educational tool and can serve as a monitoring device to track disease progression. Without pictures, you have no record.

I know you’re thinking, “I can’t add one more step to my day,” but trust me; you’ll reap the benefits and save time in the long run. Intraoral photos are a time-saving tool for dentists when patients need treatment, and insurance delays the process. Insurance companies often require a picture of the tooth to determine if treatment is necessary. By providing a visual aid, the patient and doctor can quickly understand the problem and avoid insurance delays. Visuals are especially helpful for patients who are visual learners or may not fully trust their provider.

I encourage you to explore the benefits of digital imaging, intraoral cameras, intraoral scanners, and other technological advancements that can enhance diagnostic accuracy and patient education. There is a learning curve to implementing something new, so allow yourself grace and know that you will elevate your dental hygiene practice by improving your clinical skills and providing comprehensive care. Embrace the latest advancements, use them to your advantage, and see this as an opportunity, not a setback.

Offer personalized care

Every patient is unique, and providing personalized care is key to a successful dental hygiene appointment. Learn how to tailor your approach based on individual needs and specific concerns, and then create a customized oral health plan. This will help build patient trust.

For example, if a patient has sensitivity, you may want to ask specific follow-up questions, such as, “Do you have hot or cold sensitivity?” or “Is it tooth-specific or generalized?” You’ll want to address these concerns at the beginning of the appointment.

Should you need an additional x-ray, you’ll have it for the exam. Also, a caries risk assessment is crucial to address this early to help you formulate a treatment recommendation and provide you with some talking points, all while you’re working instead of trying to squeeze things in at the end.

This approach will help you determine the need for fluoride. If the patient has persistent sensitivity and you notice additional caries, then you may want to advise they take home a fluoride gel or toothpaste as a maintenance dose.

Improve patient outcomes with adjunctive services

One way to help you reach your clinical goals is to provide adjunctive services. If you want to maximize your time, you must adequately assess the patient and determine what service best suits them based on their needs. I compare it to a sales strategy, where you identify the pain points and then sell a solution.

Dental hygienists are not taught sales or the business side of dentistry in school. The reality is that most of us do not like selling to our patients. I challenge you to look at it from a different perspective—that you’re addressing the patient's needs by providing them with knowledge to make an informed decision about their oral and overall health. I call it need-based selling.

To do this effectively, you must ask open-ended questions, which lead to open dialogue. You’ll soon discover what keeps them up at night and what’s important to them. If a patient has periodontal disease, I recommend services such as bacterial testing, locally delivered antimicrobial therapy, and take-home products such as a Waterpik. For a patient presenting with decay, I recommend salivary testing, fluoride varnish, and take-home products such as prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste.

If there are no cavities, sealants are the best option, and include all posterior teeth if possible. The goal is to keep them out of the dentist’s chair. Every patient is unique, and every office is different in how they approach patient care, but one thing is true: a healthy patient is a happy patient. You will become their hygiene hero! It’s essential to have both a preventive and periodontal therapy protocol to guide you in your clinical decisions. The bottom line is that results follow if you focus on patients' needs.

Build a strong reputation

For dental hygienists who want to be known for their clinical expertise, reputation matters. Explore strategies for building a positive reputation, including patient testimonials and community engagement. When talking with patients, refer to recent research you’ve done, articles you’ve read, or what you learned in a recent course. If you’ve published an article, share it with them.

Remember that pursuing excellence is a continuous journey. By incorporating modern techniques, embracing efficiency, and committing to lifelong learning, you can truly make a difference in your patients' oral health and overall well-being.

For more clinical tips, you can follow me on LinkedIn or on Instagram. Here's to achieving clinical mastery and fostering healthier, happier smiles!

Krisa Swanson, RDH, is a lifelong Georgia resident with more than 20 years in dentistry. Krisa holds an A.S. in dental hygiene from Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia. Aside from practicing clinical hygiene, she’s a hygiene trainer and practice consultant for Dental Education Partners. She also offers CE to improve clinical outcomes and elevate patient care. Outside the office, she cheers on her kids in soccer and volunteers for school functions. She loves to travel, take jogs, and read.