10 Questions: How to Ace Your First Dental Hygiene Temp Job

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So you just landed your first dental hygiene temp job – that’s great! Whether you’re a new graduate, a mom who is returning to work after maternity leave, a seasoned hygienist looking to make extra money on the side, or a freelancer not wanting to commit to a permanent position, here are some important questions you should think about to help you ace your first dental hygiene temp job!

1) How can I best prepare before I start my day?

Temping can be very stressful for most people because your work environment can vary greatly from day to day. While first-day jitters are sometimes unavoidable, there are a few things that you can do to help start your day with as little stress as possible. Wake up earlier, meditate and stretch, have a healthy breakfast, and plan your route to work. There is nothing worse than starting your first day coming in late, stressed, and feeling flustered!

2) What is the office workflow?

Try to arrive at least 30 minutes early – familiarize yourself with the staff names, computer programs they use, and the equipment you will need for the day. Find out where the patient dental aids are stored and where supplies are stocked.

Then develop a game plan for yourself. If the clinic has a morning huddle or staff meeting, make sure to be present for it. It will help you plan your time effectively, especially for things such as determining when is the best time to ask the dentist to come in for an exam.

3) What do the staff wear to work?

Scrubs? Business casual wear? Do they provide gloves in your size? Often overlooked, dressing appropriately can influence the confidence you exude at work. There is nothing worse than coming to an office wearing neon green scrubs when everyone else is dressed in black!

If possible, call in advance to find out what the uniform policy is. If calling ahead is not possible, check the clinic website to see if there are any photos of staff dressed in their daily uniform.

4) What else do I need to know before I start?

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Some key questions to ask the front desk are: Who does the scheduling after treatment? Who does the billing?

If there are other dental hygienists and assistants working with you, ask them for any tips to make your workflow go smoothly. Are you in charge of sterilizing your own instruments, or is there a sterilization assistant present? Do you have someone who can assist you with periodontal charting or cleaning your room? Clinical staff members are generally very helpful. They’re just happy you’re there to help them out!

5) Why did the office need a hygienist today?

If temping for another hygienist, consider asking the clinic staff and dentist why the hygienist is away. Patients are bound to ask you, “Where is my usual hygienist?” especially if they are used to seeing the same hygienist. Have an answer ready and let them know your name and the reason why you are in the office that day.

If the clinic hired you to fill in because they are busier than usual, let the patients know that, too.

6) What is the office culture?

Adapt to the culture of the office, but don’t compromise your ethics and standard of care. Don’t entertain gossip and try to keep conversations with your co-workers and patients friendly and lighthearted. Having a heated discussion about politics, religion, or sexuality probably isn’t a great idea.

If there is pressure on you to do something that is unethical or that you are not comfortable with make sure to discuss this with the dentist or office manager and, more importantly, document it! If you are working for a temping agency, it may be appropriate to bring it to their attention instead.

7) How do I best take care of myself while at work?

Remember why you became a hygienist and acknowledge that dental hygiene is very physical and often laborious work. Because hygienists often follow a time-sensitive schedule, it is incredibly easy to forget to stop for a stretch or lunch break, or even to use the bathroom!

Pay attention to your ergonomics, keep a water bottle and snack somewhere, and don’t be afraid to excuse yourself from your patient if you really need to go to the bathroom. Whether you are working four or 40 hours a week, taking care of yourself is crucial for a long-term career in dental hygiene.

8) What can I do to go the extra mile?

Whether you are working in a small, one-dentist office or a large, busy practice, being a team player is crucial to a smooth workflow. Ask others how you can help if you have unexpected downtime. Other staff members will surely notice and appreciate it, and they will often be more inclined to help you when you need a hand, especially if you are running behind.

9) How did I do today?

Ask for feedback! Often hygienists are daunted by temping because they are afraid that they will slow the office down. Be as open-minded as possible, and ask for constructive feedback. One of the benefits of being a temp hygienist is that you are immersed in a different work environment every time, and every workday becomes a new learning experience.

10) Now… what?

Leave with a good attitude, thank the clinic staff and send an e-mail to the dentist or office manager, letting them know how your day went. If you are looking to get a permanent position, this might be what sets you apart from other temp hygienists. If you are not wanting to commit, it will still leave a lasting impression on the staff and will make them want to call you back repeatedly!

Temping for the first time in dental hygiene can be intimidating and overwhelming, but it can also be exciting, fun, and challenging. Place yourself in the right mindset and remember that preparation is crucial to success. Use these questions to help you plan your workday – be it your first or twentieth year as a dental hygienist. Good luck, and I hope that you ace your first day as a dental hygiene temp!

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