10 Hygienists’ Tips for Assertiveness and Self-advocacy in the Dental Office

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As a practicing dental hygienist for about nine years now, I have worked for corporate dentistry, private practice, and both fee-for-service and Medicaid offices. Throughout my experience, I have noticed that no two dental offices are the same. The patients are very different from office to office, my coworkers are very different, and even the choice of hygiene instruments is very different.

However, one thing that seems consistent is the lack of self-advocacy from the dental hygiene departments within these offices. Throughout our dental hygiene education, we are taught to be patient advocates, which is a great thing. When it comes to our patients, many of us have no issues fighting for them. Many of us don’t even second guess, for example, if we need to report something to the authorities or Child Protective Services. Yet most of us do not advocate for ourselves and our profession. We are worth it! You deserve to have new instruments and proper equipment.

Did you know there are dental hygienists out there who are afraid to ask for new instruments? They will use the same dull, worn-out ultrasonic tips and hand instruments for years if it means they don’t have to ask for them.

Why is this? Did we get scarred from dental hygiene school? Maybe we had a terrible experience with an employer in the past, and it affected us for years to come. Whatever the reason, I think it’s time for a change.

I want to share my tips with you! Below are 10 tips for assertiveness and self-advocacy in the office.

1) Focus on clear communication

A lot of things go unsaid in the office and build up over time. If something is going on, communicate that. How else will they know? There is nothing wrong with communicating how you feel.

I have run into this with several hygienist friends of mine. They are upset about a situation, or someone is constantly doing something that bothers them, yet they say nothing. Don’t be afraid. Be a strong and confident dental hygienist.

2) Use confident body language

You are more likely to get a positive response when you appear confident. Stand tall and maintain good posture. Straighten your back, relax your shoulders, and make sure your arms are not crossed. This applies to morning huddles, proposals to your doctor or office manager, and patients. Good posture also builds self-confidence!

3) Maintain eye contact

It may seem unimportant, but establishing eye contact enhances the effectiveness of what you’re saying. It also makes you look and feel more confident about your communication. Who doesn’t want to be effective and confident?

4) Express your professional opinions with clarity and the correct tone

Sometimes, your opinion can be misunderstood depending on the tone of your voice. Trust me, I am a New Yorker. This used to happen to me all the time until I finally understood that perception really is reality.

5) Take continuing education

Continuing education courses are so important. They have helped me stay current and confident when talking to my coworkers and patients in my office. If you are looking to network, I prefer in-person continuing education courses. Check out your local ADHA component for offerings in your area.

6) Establish a periodontal protocol

Time and time again, we have all heard about the prophy mills. They are real! As hygienists, we spent so much time learning about periodontal disease prevention and treatment. If your office doesn’t have a periodontal protocol in place, I highly suggest collaborating with your dentist and team members so everyone can contribute and be on the same page.

7) Choose the right time and place

If you want to do as I suggested above and establish a periodontal protocol or ask for new supplies or instruments, figure out the best time to approach your doctor or office manager.

At my office, our doctor is the one who makes the decisions, and he is best reached during lunch or right after his last patient. I know this, so this is when I approach him when I have something to discuss.

8) Stand up for yourself and know your value

If you’re a hygienist, you worked your butt off to get that title. Your voice matters – you matter. You should feel confident in what you do in the workplace, how you interact with patients, and determining patient care. Don’t put up with things you shouldn’t, like having a non-existent lunch break, having too many patients crammed into your schedule, or “prophy” patients with bleeding, 8 mm pockets.

9) Delegate tasks

You cannot do everything at your office without help. Yes, most of us work in a single operatory with a single patient at a time, and it gets easy for some of us to slip into a very introverted state of mind. If you need help, ask. Do not assume your coworkers are too busy.

10) Ask questions during interviews

If you are a new hygienist just about to enter the workforce, or perhaps you are experienced and looking for a new dental home and interviewing, please ask how often instruments are ordered and replaced, if there are any benefits offered, and how many patients you are expected to see per day.

From there, you can begin to gauge the dentist or the office manager and see how they run their practice. Bonus: They also get an opportunity to see that you are passionate about patient care and what you do and that you are an assertive hygienist who knows how to advocate for themselves and their patients.

In Closing

Don’t be afraid to be assertive and advocate for yourself – you are worth it. I hope these tips bring you strength and you are able to use them to improve your life in the workplace!

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