Th 196250

Dental hygiene is a business

Dec. 1, 2005
When you hear a title such as “The Business of Dental Hygiene,” what comes to mind? For many hygienists, a negative picture of the “prophy mill” practice is envisioned.

When you hear a title such as “The Business of Dental Hygiene,” what comes to mind? For many hygienists, a negative picture of the “prophy mill” practice is envisioned.

However, for Deborah Dopson-Hartley, RDH, it means much more than mere production numbers. Deborah has even named her company, The Business of Dental Hygiene, because she firmly believes that hygienists need to be aware of the business side of what we do.

In addition, the title doubles as the title of her favorite, yet most controversial, continuing education program. Deborah believes that there is so much more to dental hygiene than production numbers, giving OHI, or “cleaning” teeth. She sees the hygiene department as a business within a business.

Deborah Dopson-Hartley
Click here to enlarge image


That does not imply that patient care will suffer or that the hygienist, by paying attention to the business side of practice, will sacrifice any patient quality or service. Rather, by understanding the business aspects of dental hygiene, hygienists can survive and excel in today’s changing health-care market.

Deborah believes that a thriving hygiene department can have a major influence on the overall success of the practice. Not only are hygiene services important to overall patient health, they are important to the practice in terms of referral-generating potential, pure sales (that’s right, sales) power, patient retention, and practice growth.

Being both a service provider and a profit producer from the business aspect of the practice, the time spent by the hygienist with patients is the most valuable. To get the most out of that time, the hygienist must have a focused agenda, clearly defined goals, and a realistic, workable system. Under-utilization of the hygienist’s expertise and education does not make good business sense.

Deborah, through her program, tries to instill in hygienists the desire to get what they want from their work, get paid for what they do, and find ways to achieve their personal objectives. Concepts that she introduces in the program include but are not limited to:

• The bottom line of the practice of dental hygiene

• What makes a hygienist profitable

• Time-saving tips

• The esthetic hygienist - material maintenance

• Creating a comprehensive hygiene department

• Practical prevention

In all of her programs, Deborah examines specific strategies and protocols for achieving the results that create and reflect back on what should be the foundation of any successful hygiene department. Participants learn how to define their own goals, use their time effectively, and how to realistically achieve and control their compensation. All the audience needs to do is to be open to new thoughts and ideas and decide what it is they truly want from their hygiene department and themselves, and she will teach them how to get there!

For 14 years in practice, Deborah was like most hygienists - didn’t know and didn’t care about the financial and business aspects of a dental practice. Her focus was on taking care of the patients, helping to go from disease to health, and to remain with health. However, during that time, she reached the burnout stage of hygiene; she loved hygiene but felt extremely frustrated because she knew deep down that her job could be so much more.

Fortunately for her, a change in positions brought her to a job where she began to work with someone who was a businessman and a dentist. They both had similar philosophies as to the profitability of excellence and the desire to help patients. He gave her the opportunity to explore new and invigorating ways of doing the hygiene that she loved.

Through her experiences, she learned that there were many hygienists, dentists, and other team members who did not have a clear understanding of what is expected of them or what responsibilities they should be held accountable for, let alone what they really wanted in their day-to-day professional lives nor how to realistically achieve it. She became involved in presenting programs to entire dental teams: hygienists, assistants, dentists, business assistants, office managers, consultants, and administrators to enhance the overall effectiveness of the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene.

Deborah feels that, despite the advances in technology and practice techniques, many hygienists and hygiene departments still function in outdated practice modes. She is aware of many great hygienists who are trying to provide quality hygiene care. But because many do not have business training, freedom or flexibility of practice, incentive, motivation or the support they need from the rest of the practice to bring the hygiene program to the next level, they experience burnout and quit.

She has been fortunate enough to work with and learn from employer dentists who understood the true values of their hygiene team. She has helped build their practices into their visions and dreams, while she enjoyed the things that she wanted and needed out of the practice of dental hygiene. When she began as a hygienist, she viewed it as merely a “job” as do many hygienists today. But over the years, she has come to see it as an adventure, full of rewards and opportunities that she could only have dreamed about. In the words of Deborah’s friend and speaking coach, Dr. Paul Homoly, “The best thing about success in dentistry is who we have become to accomplish it.” And Deborah has become a special person through her success in dental hygiene.

A frequent speaker at the RDH Under One Roof conferences, Deborah will be speaking at the Yankee Dental Congress in Boston on Jan. 27. For more information on her programs, contact her at [email protected] or her Web site,

Editor’s Note: Ann-Marie DePalma’s column has always appeared adjacent to a department titled, “Continuing Education.” The listing of upcoming seminars now appears on the magazine’s Web site at

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, BS, is currently a faculty member at Mt. Ida College’s dental hygiene program after spending more than 25 years in private practice. She is also pursuing a master’s degree in education in instructional design. A member of several professional dental hygiene associations, Ann-Marie has written numerous articles and provides continuing education programs for dental hygienists and dental team members. She can be reached at [email protected].