Ask a hygienist!

May 1, 2003
A few years ago at a national dental show, I was horrified to witness a salesperson step between a dentist and his hygienist. He quickly turned his back on the hygienist to chat directly with the doctor.

By Kristine A. Hodson

A few years ago at a national dental show, I was horrified to witness a salesperson step between a dentist and his hygienist. He quickly turned his back on the hygienist to chat directly with the doctor. That salesperson had no idea that he was in the presence of an emerging H.I.P.P.

What is a H.I.P.P? It's a Hygienist with Influence and Purchasing Power!

I have heard many conversations and read many e-mails complaining that dental manufacturers do not value hygienists. I've witnessed angered reactions to television commercials and advertisements that use phrases such as "dentist recommendation" rather than "dental professional" or "dentist and hygienist."

I am now witnessing that the corporate side of dental hygiene is taking notice. Hygienists are being listened to and valued because we are rising as decision makers, influencers, and product purchasers. Manufacturers have recognized this trend and are realizing that hygienists can help a company strengthen its name recognition, increase sales, and increase profits.

A story was relayed to me after the Under One Roof Conference last February in Las Vegas.

Two hygienists, from the same office, attended one of my lectures at the conference. During my program, I briefly discussed business issues, along with my affiliation with Hygiene Mastery and the many excellent in-office hygiene consultants. These two hygienists had previously fired a hygiene consultant after only one day because they immediately felt the incompatibility. They returned to their practice insisting that the doctor hire a hygiene coach — one of the coaches featured at the conference.

How about the hygienist who told me she purchased a high-end perioscopy unit and now rents it back to her office on the days she is not working? Or all of the hygienists who have purchased magnification systems, their own ergonomic chairs, instruments, handpieces, and ultrasonic units to make sure that they can provide quality care in the manner they choose. These are all examples of H.I.P.P. in action!

This is a changing trend in dentistry — a shift from manufacturers marketing and listening to dentists only to considering the wants and needs of hygienists as well. Many leaders in our industry want to learn what hygienists want, and the best way to do that is — ask us!

Hygienists share information that can be heard at continuing education seminars, on the Internet, during lunch breaks, and even in social gatherings. We share stories, successes, product recommendations and product information. Ask hygienists and they will tell you what needs to be done to a product for better handling, better implementation, or how it can be adapted to better serve them clinically.

Listening to hygienists is nothing new for long-time corporate supporters like Oral-B.

I recently asked Tonya Ray, RDH, MA, the national manager of professional education, to explain the various ways Oral-B shows its commitment to the dental hygiene profession.

"First," Tonya said, "Oral-B employs a large number of dental hygienists in sales, marketing, research and management positions within the company. So the voice of hygiene is certainly heard at that level. Second, the Oral-B Dental Hygiene Advisory Board, was begun by Mr. Bob Perry in our marketing department in the 1980s — a time when most companies did not even have RDHs working for them, let alone advising them on critical business decisions."

Tonya continues, "Our advisory board advises us on everything from product features to advertising. What is unique about the Oral-B board is that it made up solely of hygienists and the members represent a real cross-section of our profession. Some are famous lecturers and authors, and some are private practitioners who have just been out of school for a couple of years. Last, our commitment to the hygiene profession is shown by the fact that we survey RDHs on a regular basis, and involve RDHs in focus panel discussions. At Oral-B, we are in contact with hygienists every single day to hear what they think, and then put those thoughts into action in our strategic plans."

In a growing attempt to capture the hygiene market with new products and services, even traditional dental manufacturers such as 3M ESPE are enacting hygiene boards. These boards are asking hygienists to participate in surveys, in-depth discussions, brainstorming sessions, etc. These types of initiatives are established to ask for our opinions, and, more importantly, to listen to us!

A relatively new company to the dental scene, OraPharma, maker of Arestin™, a locally administered antibiotic containing minocycline, acknowledges the hygienist through its program — the Dental Hygiene Forum.

Caroline Evans, senior account manager of the Baltimore territory, feels that the Dental Hygiene Forum meetings provide an "incredible opportunity" for peers to come together in a relaxing environment and talk about a myriad of topics, professional as well as personal. Caroline continues, "A group of colleagues get together and share a lot of great information; it creates product awareness. The hygienists share their clinical successes and ultimately build rapport among each other. These sessions help them in their day-to-day practice. The overall message is that OraPharma is committed to building your practice and supporting your success."

H.I.P.P. has intrigued me for years. Noting the trend of hygienists building the confidence to continuously improve our professional image — first from the inside and then from the outside — I became very curious as to understanding our influence and purchasing power. The premise of my recently created consulting company, Reach Hygiene (, is twofold:

• To reach hygienists through continuing education programs and in print in order to help them understand and translate key truths and trends into "real world" clinical and business solutions.

• To guide companies in understanding and anticipating dental and dental hygiene behavior and promoting established brands, new products, and services to meet the needs of the marketplace.

Reach Hygiene differentiates itself from other hygiene consultants through its unique alliances. One of its goals is to bring together hygienists and team members who wouldn't ordinarily share ideas (or experts who, in fact, might normally be in competition), called Hygiene Reserve. Hygiene Reserve's members are called upon for opinions, ideas, and insights needed for upcoming research projects, books, focus groups, in-depth interviews, brainstorming sessions, and conference calls.

H.I.P.P., coupled with corporations who support, ask, and listen to hygienists, make a winning combination. The market place is asking — let them hear hygienists speak!

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, is an international speaker, author, and software developer. She is the author of Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team. The book is available online at She can be contacted about speaking or coaching at [email protected]. Visit her on the Web at