Good habits for dental offices

May 27, 2005
Author offers two "habits" that can foster successful dental practice and a happier work environment.

By Ann-Marie DePalma, RDH, BS

What makes a dental office run effectively and the staff want to remain a permanent fixture there? Or conversely, what makes a practice ineffective and the staff hate their job, or, even worse, have a constant revolving door of members? There are things that are beyond a hygienist's control such as salary, overhead, and the like, but some things are what I like to call "habits of effective offices." These are often things and ideals that the hygienist can participate along with other team members, including the doctor, to make the overall dental experience, not only a fun place to work but one where patients enjoy being a part. We will briefly look at two of these "habits."

Both the office and individual team members should have a mission statement. A mission statement defines the goals of a practice or individual. It is what gives vision and meaning to what is accomplished. What made you choose to become a dental hygienist? In discussions with hygienists, what most often surfaces is the ability to serve patients in a health-care setting that is more prevention oriented than disease treating. That could be your mission statement as a hygienist in any given practice setting.

The office mission statement, however, comes directly from the doctor and his or her philosophy of practice. It is the commitment to excellence that sparks enthusiasm to be one's best.(1) However, if the doctor is not committed to provide his or her best, the passion and commitment of the rest of the staff will not be present. The office is just surviving, not flourishing or growing. Do you have a passion for dental hygiene? Does your employer have a passion for dentistry? The mission statement would be your passion for dental hygiene while your employer's passion would be the practice's mission statement.

Another habit of effective offices is the ability to constantly communicate. According to Webster's dictionary, communication is defined as the exchange of ideas, messages, or information. Within a dental practice, communication occurs on many different levels. It can be seen as doctor to staff, doctor to patient, staff to patient, doctor/staff to referrers, and doctor/staff to third-party payors. Each level offers a variety of responses and modes of communication.

Effective offices know how to handle and juggle all of these communication models. Just as a mission statement defines a person or practice, communication can make or break relationships. For example, do team meetings/huddles occur regularly or just when problems arise? Are patients knowledgeable about the practice policies, treatments, and philosophies?

Think about the practice setting you are in. Do you have a mission statement; does the office have a mission statement? How does the office communicate? Is there a two-way communication, or is it all one-sided? The answers to these and many other questions can help make both the dental environment in which you practice and your practice of dental hygiene the most effective it can be.

(1) Chesapeake Institute, September 2004 manual

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS is a columnist for RDH Magazine, faculty member of Mt. Ida College Dental Hygiene program and continuing education speaker on a variety of topics. She is also currently pursuing a MEd in Instructional Design.