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Empowered to purchase: Dental hygienists should attentively buy own tools of the trade

March 14, 2017
Cathy Richardson, RDH, explains why dental hygienists should purchase their own equipment and instruments.

By Cathy Richardson, RDH, MBA

Social media and journal articles frequently voice the concerns of dental hygienists regarding work situations and what employers will or will not provide vs. the ideal or what the dental hygienist prefers. Having practiced clinical dental hygiene as well as being an educator, I understand that not all employment situations are the same. Varying rules and regulations across the states, as well as job markets and clinical settings in which to practice, many hygienists accept a position feeling that they have no other choice or without being fully aware of what their job description and working environment will involve.

My advice to those hygienists is to look for ways to change your environment. Although some would assume that means "find another job," that is not always required.

Changing your environment can be accomplished in another way. You can improve everything in your life by being solution-oriented and maintaining an optimistic outlook. Much has been made in the past few years about the purchasing power and the influence of dental hygienists in product selection. Let's take a look at how this can empower a hygienist to turn the negatives into positives for their work environment.

Own the tools of your trade

While the employer is responsible for many aspects of your work environment, (work hours, scheduling, treatment room, and patients), there is nothing to prevent a hygienist from owning his or her own equipment. Numerous surveys have been conducted to determine products that hygienists purchase on their own.

As an educator, I find that when students invest in their own equipment and supplies, they are more likely to take better care of those products. They also become more conscious of supply quality and cost. Overall, they become interested in the products and as a result, more quality conscious consumers.

It may sound like a small thing, but when hygienists purchase for themselves, they become empowered. Think back on how you felt after your first large purchase. Maybe it was your education, a car, or a house. You felt a sense of satisfaction, pride, joy, and confidence. Most likely, you celebrated or at least wore a huge smile on your face for days.

For too long, hygienists have felt that the tools of their trade can only consist of whatever the employer provides. A few dental distributors have realized the importance of the hygienists' purchasing power and will now open individual accounts. As you begin to research equipment and products, look for a supplier that is focused on your needs as a dental hygienist. Consider someone that has walked a mile in your shoes and knows the day-to-day challenges you face. Do they have your best interests in mind and will they back your product purchases with great customer service? You should be able to rely on this distributor not only as a supplier, but as a resource for information and as a professional advocate.

Imagine your working environment as you would like for it to be; then take positive action to make it happen. It can begin with one small purchase-a few instruments or a better fitting glove.

Become involved in product selection

Maybe you are not yet able to practice on your own or without restrictions. There may be some products or equipment that you want to purchase for yourself, but other supply orders will be based on the decisions of the office as a whole. As a trained professional, step up and use your knowledge to educate others in the office. Become an influencer.

Many times, products are being ordered simply based on cost or because "that's how it's always been done." Evidence-based health care requires the evaluation of products based on the best research evidence, your clinical expertise, and individual patient values. Great leaders in any field influence others through their actions. The time you spend researching and obtaining facts along with your positive attitude and enthusiasm can be a catalyst for change and success in your practice.

The market is full of choices. However, when choosing health-care products, always purchase from a credible source. Licensed distributors have met manufacturer requirements to legally sell their products. Without knowing it, you may fall victim to purchasing from online brokers and unauthorized dealers. Our global economy has given rise to activity on the black and gray markets. These markets "bait and switch" consumers with products that are intended for foreign markets, may not comply with U.S. laws and regulations, and may even have been illegally re-directed or obtained.

By purchasing from large e-commerce companies, there is a risk that the product hasn't been approved by the F.D.A. or has no assurance of being stored or transported in appropriate conditions. The risks associated with purchasing from the gray or black markets are health risks through inferior products, fraudulent packaging, and expiration dates as well as improper handling and storage. This can become expensive for your practice due to loss of initial funds to purchase the product followed by product replacement costs due to the inability to return inferior product, restorative costs (time and money to replace inferior materials used in patient care) along with litigation costs.

Empowerment and influence are critical elements of professionalism. So it should come as no surprise that the dental hygiene profession has evolved to include the concept of equipment ownership and solution-based decision making. Patient-centered care begins with health-care professionals being comfortable and secure in their workspace. Although these elements are merely pieces in the overall puzzle, these are two areas that hygienists can begin working on today to take control of their working environment and affect positive change for tomorrow. RDH

The three "C's" of product selection

  • Content: Does the product contain what is necessary and beneficial for my patient? Is it safe for my patient? Read the label. Know how the product should be applied, criteria for application, conditions for storage, expiration dates, allergic reactions, and does it meet current ADA standards?
  • Credibility: Research the product for quality assurance. What is the science behind the product? Evaluate critical opinions and evidence-based research. Attend continuing education courses and read articles to combine the facts. Whenever possible, obtain product samples to determine effectiveness and efficiency in your hands. Combining these factors will assist you in better decision-making to improve patient outcomes.
  • Cost: Believe it or not, price alone is not the most critical element in your decision making. Quality should never be sacrificed for cost.

Cathy Richardson, RDH, MBA, has over 30 years of experience as a clinician, educator, and business consultant. After earning her bachelor's in dental hygiene from the Medical College of Georgia, Cathy practiced clinical dental hygiene for several years before joining MCG as an educator and clinical instructor. Upon receiving her MBA from the University of Tennessee- Chattanooga, she worked with a dental practice management consulting firm. She also contributed significantly to the development of educational and marketing materials as the southeast regional manager for a dental loupe manufacturer. Her presentation credits include several state and local dental hygiene meetings as well as guest lecturer at dental hygiene programs across the country. As clinical specialist for Simply Hygiene, she now works with practicing hygienists and dental hygiene programs to promote education through the introduction of new technology, products and ergonomic practices. Visit for more information.