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Dental hygiene economics

Aug. 1, 2011
Coping with the supply and demand issues of dental hygiene

Coping with the supply and demand issues of dental hygiene

by Keverly Sugden, RDH, BASDH

Have you ever considered what your true worth is to your employer? If not, you certainly should. Your employer, whether a single practitioner or large group practice, is a business owner. Seasoned hygienists and new graduates need to realize their true value and worth. Dentistry is a rapidly changing profession, and dental hygienists need to understand their role in the new economy.

Economics is defined as a social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Wikipedia states, "The social sciences are a group of academic disciplines that study human aspects of the world." Dental hygiene economics seeks to explain principles and trends in dentistry today, and how they will affect the profession in the future.

Here are a few facts about dental hygiene economics during this decade.

❑ Fact: The demand for dental hygienists has decreased due to the economy. Many new graduates from dental hygiene schools in the United States are having difficulty finding full-time employment. Seasoned dental hygienists are working full-time, and many are re-entering the workforce. Economics explains this as supply and demand. New graduates and practicing hygienists need to learn to set themselves apart in order to be noticed, as well as gain or keep employment. Learning how to produce, keep expenses down, and distribute services and products is the only way to survive in today's dental job market. Hygienists need to know and understand business principles and meet their employers' needs. Profitable hygienist can and should produce at least three times their daily or hourly wage.

I work in a large group practice with four hygienists and three dentists. We are all expected to produce while providing the best care for our patients. My coworkers and I are always looking for ideas that can help boost production and increase patient retention. Proper periodontal protocol, periodontal charting, treatment, and monitoring of every patient are critical ingredients in boosting production in the hygiene department. Many websites offer resources for education and patient management. Among my favorites are and Dental publication websites also contain information on new advances and products in dentistry.

There are many ways to increase productivity and lower expenses in the hygiene department. Hygienists should make it a point to learn business principles and apply them to their practice. Efficiency and effective production, for example, are increased by:

Wearing magnification loupes. I invested in Orascoptic magnification loupes and light. The loupes and light allow improved detection of periodontal issues and restorative needs for my patients. Production has increased as a direct result of wearing the loupes and light. The dentist's production also increases when the dental hygienist can codiagnose patient restorative and periodontal needs.

The latest anesthetic choices. A comfortable patient's treatment proceeds quickly and efficiently. Topical anesthetics that are effective require less time than injectable anesthetics, further increasing hygiene productivity. There are many effective topical anesthetics to sample. The Cetacaine Topical Anesthetic Liquid Kit offers an economic solution for anesthetizing for nonsurgical periodontal procedures. The kit includes anesthetic liquid, syringes, and tips for 34 full-mouth applications. The Cetacaine kit is cost-efficient and very effective. A comfortable, relaxed patient will return and refer patients to your practice.

❑ Fact: The demand for preventive and hygiene services has increased. Patients currently seek preventive care and are very aware of the importance of preventive services. This trend points to an eventual return for increased demand for informed dental hygienists. An informed hygienist keeps current in preventive methods and products. Know your market (patient) and keep them returning by offering current and relative information about their dental health. Many dental publications and websites provide information about the latest technologies and products in dentistry. Hygienists can learn and network with other hygienists by attending large dental and dental hygiene meetings. Be informed; your patients are!

❑ Fact: Hygienists are accountable for patient satisfaction and retention. Patients often feel connected to the practice through their dental hygienists and they trust our expertise and opinions and often look to us for advice on their dental treatment.

Hygienists have been trained in the best clinical methods and can provide comprehensive, quality care. We owe it to our patients to keep current on methodologies such as minimally invasive dentistry and caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). Patients appreciate suggestions for preventive products for caries and periodontal disease control. Dozens of new products, for example, contain xylitol. Patients are compliant with xylitol-containing mints and gum. The Spry Dental Defense System by Xlear, for example, offers mints, gums, and other dental products containing xylitol, which can help reduce the bacteria associated with caries.

Hygienists have the potential to be awesome marketers of preventive products and services within the dental practice. Employers are well aware there is a great supply of potential hard-working and productive workers. Savvy dental hygienists will learn ways to be productive and increase patient retention.

❑ Fact: Your employer really does want to find the right match. Dentists learn very little about business and human resources in dental school. Your employer wants to be successful and wants you to share in this success. As business owners or producers for dental corporations, they face production quotas and expenses that must be met. Many dentists are strapped with huge debts.

Hygienists who respect the financial requirements within the business can help a dental practice succeed. Dentistry's primary focus is on patient care, but the focus is also on reaching daily production quotas. The hygienist that delivers efficient and comprehensive care will meet production goals.

❑ Fact: Hygienists who can multitask are a huge asset to a dental practice. Learn how to keep expenses down by negotiating deals with dental distributors. Many companies now deal directly, and all offer specials for loyal customers. Scanning the pages of the dental distributor's catalog is a great way to learn about new products and promotions. Try something new as often as possible. Many smaller manufacturers often offer very good prices on supplies.

As you explore dental hygiene economics, think like a business owner, appreciating your employer's responsibilities – and have fun learning and working in dental hygiene economics.

Keverly Sugden, RDH, BASDH, is an author, speaker, and practicing dental hygienist. She has published articles on group practice management and MI dentistry. Keverly is a member of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and works with local legislators on access to care for children. She has written a training program for large group dental practices and has organized corporately sponsored continuing education courses for dental hygienists. Keverly can be contacted at [email protected].

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