More 'experiences' from the real world

Aug. 1, 2001
It's not about 'selling' dentistry... It's about raising the level of dental awareness ... and placing value in what you are going to do to help fix their problem.

It's not about 'selling' dentistry... It's about raising the level of dental awareness ... and placing value in what you are going to do to help fix their problem.

Last month, I interviewed four dental hygienists who are practicing in the 'real world" of esthetic dentistry. They are: Julie Martin, RDH; Kathy Bandlow, RDH; Mindy Johnson, RDH; and Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH. This month, I want to share some additional comments about what they do.

Hodsdon: Can you share with RDH readers a function, duty, or responsibility that you believe is unique?

Hurlbutt: I always de-plaque the tongue as part of the oral prophylaxis or periodontal therapy. By adding this to my regular treatment regimen, it has literally revolutionized the way patients look at oral disease. I have seen a dramatic improvement in many of our patients' plaque control and periodontal health, because of the introduction of this adjunct.

In addition, I always provide our clients with an opportunity to say "yes to the best" in the area of new procedures, new materials, and new therapies. I feel that I owe it to our patients to present them with this information, so that they can make an informed decision on their oral health care needs.

I truly believe in the dental hygiene profession's definition of optimal oral health, which is a standard of health of the oral and related tissues which enable an individual to eat, speak, and socialize without active disease, discomfort, or embarrassment and which contributes to general well-being and overall health (American Dental Hygienists' Association 1999).

I keep this definition in mind when I talk with my patients. They deserve to know what is available to them in the way of treatment options, even if it is elective. My goal as a dental hygienist is to help my patients attain optimal oral health.

Johnson: I feel that the most important thing a hygienist can do is be the key team member in instilling value in the type of dentistry your office does. You see the patients more frequently than anyone else in the entire office, and you have their undivided attention for at least an hour. What better opportunity to promote your doctor and the office as a whole?

One function that I perform — and could not live without — is using the intraoral camera all the time! It is great for perio education. Patients can appreciate pictures before scaling and root planing vs. after scaling and root planing. It proves to be an excellent motivator for them to step up oral hygiene and truly understand the disease process in their own mouths.

However, I think using the camera prior to the doctor doing the exam to show old, failing restorations is priceless. I can't tell you how many times I have captured images of fractured amalgams and patients say "Oh, my gosh!" before I've even had a chance to say a word.

Hygienists who have worked with their doctors for any length of time know at what point doctors will want to replace restorations. So why wait to discuss this after the doctor has done the exam? No, you are not diagnosing; the doctor has the final say in any treatment that is done. But you can say to a patient, 'I think Dr. Jenkins will probably want to do something with this tooth here." By the time the doctor comes in for the exam, the patient has already processed the fact they need treatment done. It sure makes the doctor's job easier when patients have said "yes" prior to him or her walking into the room! And it's not about "selling" dentistry. I hate that phrase. It's about raising the level of dental awareness in your patients, and promoting them to place value in what you are going to do to help fix their problem.

Think about what a relief it is for the front desk team members in your office when you bring your patient up to the front at the end of the appointment. You have already given value to what they need, the doctor has diagnosed it, and their job is made easier as well because now the patient is willing to pay the fee charged for whatever treatment they may need. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

Martin: As the treatment coordinator, I walk the patient through the dental experience from the initial consultation with Dr. Armstrong, to the completion of recommended treatment. I am the patient's contact person with information ranging from esthetic treatments to finances. We feel this is a 'value-added" service, because patients are comfortable with contacting the same person with their questions or concerns throughout their treatment.

Bandlow: During a "typical" continuing care visit, the health history is updated, the blood pressure is taken, and comfort concerns are addressed. We then do an extraoral and intraoral cancer screening, TMJ range of motion evaluation, six-point periodontal screening, polishing and scaling, floss, and fluoride rinse. We also evaluate patients for tooth lightening and smile rehabilitation. We try to guide patients to the proper channels for obtaining the smiles that they want.

Hodsdon: In regard to continuing education, what programs, sessions, courses, events, etc., have you attended that you truly walked away from with the feeling of "Wow!"?

Johnson: Our office as a whole attends numerous CE courses each year. To name a few: Aesthetic Advantage, Cosmetic Dentistry 2001, and The Profitable Dentist Seminar in Destin, Fla., have been some of our favorites. I think the most important thing that team members should take from CE courses is not to feel overwhelmed with changes they may have to make. It's amazing how we all do dentistry, but it can be done in so many different ways. While attending a course, write down five things you have heard that impress you or that you would like to change. Then bring them back to the office and implement them.

Martin: Dr. Armstrong is very generous and encourages his team to pursue continuing education. We have two hygienists in the practice who have their license to administer local anesthesia.

A favorite meeting has been the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry's annual sessions. (Author's note: Dental hygienists are welcome to join the AACD as team members. For membership information, you can contact [email protected] or (800) 543-9220.

I would like to end this article with a few final thoughts from Mindy:
"I think it's important to remember that a career in dental hygiene can be what you make it," she said. "I know so many people who hate their chosen profession, and I think it is sad. It doesn't matter in which area of dentistry you are interested — whether it is cosmetics, perio, pedo, public speaking, teaching, etc. Just strive to make a difference in what you do and always challenge yourself to do better. With the future of dental hygiene in question in many states, let's show government and the general public how much of an impact educated dental hygienists can make in a person's life."

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, presents seminars nationally about esthetic hygiene. She also has developed Pre-D Systems, a pre-diagnostic esthetic enrollment software for oral health professionals. She can be contacted through