Is your heart in the Osmile? business?

Nov. 1, 2000
Clarifying your expectations and having them mesh with an office?s mission or philosophy is a healthier way to practice dental hygiene.

Clarifying your expectations and having them mesh with an office?s mission or philosophy is a healthier way to practice dental hygiene.

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH,

During many of my workshops, I will spend a few moments asking the audience about their beliefs and perceptions on OsellingO discretionary services, as well as asking them to describe the people who receive our services. The discussion always develops into an engaging segment. Now I want to add a few new dimensions to this topic.

My observation is that many dental hygienists are not clear about what they want for themselves professionally and do not actually know much about the ObusinessO of dental practices. Over the years, I have read articles that dealt with the concept of transforming a general practice into a cosmetic/esthetic boutique ? articles you have probably read too. The authors outline how important it is for hygienists to present discretionary services and esthetic options to clients. They even suggest that, if the current hygienist refuses to present cosmetic services, then perhaps a new hygienist will.

It is discouraging for me to read such black-and-white solutions to a very gray situation. If you are a hygienist who feels pressured to OsellO cosmetic services and are having a personal conflict with these demands, then you must discover more about the business of dentistry. The following questions may help you to clarify your mission as a dental hygienist. There are no right or wrong answers ? only answers that fits your professional principles.

Y How do you want to help others? Why?

Y What will make you happy in your work? Why?

Y What is your standard of care? Why?

Y What is your goal when serving your clients?

Y Do you have a belief about the services your office provides?

Y What are you willing to do, change, or risk to practice your ideal dental hygiene?

Now it is time to clearly distinguish the mission of your practice. What are the services that the practice wants to provide: smile enhancement, periodontal therapy, total-health, emergency care, orthodontics, etc.? Question yourself about the elective services that you are uncomfortable with recommending. What are your concerns about these services? What are your beliefs about cosmetic/esthetic dentistry? And, finally, is your professional mission congruent with your existing work atmosphere? Or do you need to make some dramatic changes in your attitude, beliefs, and behaviors?

This self-analysis will better prepare you for a genuine discussion with your employer. When was the last time you scheduled a meeting and did not deliver unpleasant news? Why not invite the dentist to a lunch or dinner and have an open conversation about your thoughts and feelings regarding esthetic dentistry? The doctor may perceive you as not being a team player. The problem may be, instead, that you do not fully understand the treatments, materials, or technologies. Engage in a discussion with the intention of discovering and understanding the doctor?s desire for the practice, his or her expectations of you, and how you see yourself functioning in the practice.

Together, develop a Oto-do listO that will develop your gifts, talents, and skills for a synergistic inclusion in the practice?s vision. This may include in-house training on the practice?s services, observing restorative/cosmetic procedures, enrolling in continuing education programs, the sharing of articles and research, or just old-fashioned talking about issues that arise. Of course, this approach is risky, time-consuming, and can be a little frightening, especially if you are not sure how it will be received.

The alternative may be to change employers. Remember, however, the old clich? that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Changing environments without aligning professional beliefs may lead you into the same exact situation the next time. Clarifying your expectations and having them mesh with an office?s mission or philosophy is a healthier way to practice dental hygiene.

Now that you have identified how you want to practice dental hygiene and what you will be accountable to (no easy task), what are you going to call the people you serve? Below is a compilation of some general descriptive terms/phrase for patients and clients.


* Are sick, have a problem or illness, and need to be cured.

* Are only motivated to seek care when they are unhealthy.

* Are recipients of the examination, diagnosis, and treatment.

* Are dependent on the Owhatever you sayO mentality.

* Are told what is good for them, and they should do what they are told.


* Are healthy and want that health enhanced.

* Are self-directed and motivated by their wants.

* Are unique, which requires customized variables.

* Are actively involved in their health and in the practice.

* Are responsible for themselves.

* Are the experts about themselves.

I have witnessed a small, yet strong, group of consultants, coaches, and offices refer to clients as Oguests.O The term is being introduced in the cosmetic boutique segment of dentistry.

The notion is that anyone coming into your practice should be treated as you would treat a guest in your home ? a warm greeting, fragrances for calming phobias, cordial and polite behavior, refreshments, assistance with coats, post-treatment phone calls, etc.

Even though I have no strong opinion about the word OguestO to represent the people we serve, I would caution against an office making such an attitudinal transition without guidelines, definitions, and written protocols. Not all team members have the same level of courtesy and manners. I have visited many homes that lacked high-end hospitality. Remember, not everyone is Martha Stewart.

A rediscovery of your values as a hygienist, what business your practice is in, what services are provided, what best portrays the people you serve ? and making sure all are harmonious ? will help to disarm the negative judgment that hygienists do not want to be part of the Oteam.O I believe, in fact, that many dental hygienists do want to be part of a team; they just need clarification. Before I sign off here, what should hygienists be called: Ogirls,O Ostaff,O Oteam members,O Oassociates,O Ogum specialists,O Operiodontal co-therapists,O Ooral health coachesO or ... well, maybe that?s for another column.

References available upon request.

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, presents seminars nationally about

esthetic hygiene. Her company, Dental Essence, is based in Chester, N.H. She can be e-mailed at