I remember the moment I walked across the stage at my pinning ceremony. I felt a relief that I had not experienced throughout dental hygiene school. But that feeling quickly fled when I realized that I had to practice in the real world. Let’s face it, no office was going to be OK with me taking four hours to complete one quad of scaling and root planing. But I learned four valuable skills early in my career that will help you “Wow!” as a new graduate.
Pre-audit your charts
In order to stay on time, you have to understand what needs to be completed during an appointment. Through pre-auditing your charts, you can identify what specific services patients need that day—for example, updated films, a comprehensive periodontal chart, and a comprehensive medical history. Once you’ve determined what services patients need, you can plan accordingly. In theory, these services will be attached to the appointment itself to help keep the team aligned. By having these services on the appointment book, it’s easier for the doctor to determine who needs an exam, it lets the dental assistant and hygienist know you need the sensor, and it helps the business team cross check for the services that were provided for billing.
I like to arrive at least 20 minutes before my first appointment. This allows me to run my lines, audit my charts, enjoy a few sips of coffee, and most importantly, start the day without stress. This 20 minutes provides me with a buffer for traffic and unexpected delays that could lead to me walking in at the same time as my first patient. Arriving early demonstrates professionalism and enables me to feel more in control of my day. Many practice owners will have restrictions on how early someone can clock in before their first appointment, so it’s a good idea to clarify this ahead of time in the written offer letter.
The handoff is like the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. It’s a critical element in building your value as a dental hygienist to the dentist and patient. It’s the opportunity to recap everything you covered with the patient and share your concerns with the dentist. I like to present to the doctor in SOAP format, like how you write your clinical note—subjective information, objective information, assessment, plan.
Before the hand off, place updated films on the screen with the intraoral image beside areas of concern. If there is more than one area of concern, write it on a sticky note and place it at the edge of the monitor. Before the dentist arrives for the exam, clean and dry the mirror, and place the mirror, explorer, and probe next to each other. This tells doctors they can rely on you to be organized and ready when they come in. Some dentists I’ve worked with like a wet and a dry gauze ready for them as well.
If the gloves are inconvenient for the dentist to reach, I hand them a pair. This creates an environment of teamwork and these simple acts of kindness create a foundation of collaboration. Be available to assist the doctor during the patient exam to notate which teeth need treatment, which are being watched, and key information that’s discussed. While the doctor is chatting with the patient, you can update the chart accordingly and update the patient chart after the exam is complete.
Attitude will determine your future
My nickname in one of the first offices I worked in was Sunshine. The team could always count on me to help clean rooms, answer phones, take out the garbage, or whatever was needed. During patient cancellations, I told the dentists that I could help anesthetize patients or help them with their cosmetic cases. I learned so much in my first three years. The more I demonstrated that I was ready and willing to learn, the more I was mentored.
After 12 years of practicing dental hygiene, I love it more now than the day I graduated. I’ve had amazing career opportunities since first learning how to Wow! as a new graduate. You’ve worked so hard to achieve your degree, now use it wisely!