10 Tips for Improving Your Operatory to Make Your Life Easier

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There are many needed materials and supplies involved in dental hygiene, and most of them lie within our operatories. You have oral hygiene/education instruction supplies, homecare products, sealant materials, set-ups, and other resources to name just a few. With having busy patient schedules all day, sometimes our drawers, countertops, and cabinets can become a disaster zone. Here are some tips to help make your hygiene disaster into a masterpiece.

Find Common Ground

First, put similar items together in one area. For example, have any patient homecare supplies, like toothbrushes (for all ages and needs), toothpaste, floss, goodie bags, and other aids, in one place where it can be easily accessed. Try to avoid putting supplies in different areas in your operatory. If you have to grab one thing in a drawer, another thing in a cabinet, and yet another supply from somewhere else, it becomes chaotic and unpractical. Isn’t it always satisfying to see your toothpaste and toothbrushes organized all together like that? It’s Pinterest worthy!

Prepare Before

In regards to set up materials such as bibs, headrest covers, saliva ejectors, gauze, air-water syringe, prophy angle, and prophy paste, have them close by as well. I prefer to have some setups ready anytime. I throw all needed materials in a headrest cover and neatly place them nearby, just in case. This also can be used with goodie bag supplies. Having a few goodie bags prepared ahead of time can be helpful if time is not on your side during the day.

Backups for your Backups

You may also want to keep a few extras or backups of supplies just in case you realize halfway through an appointment you ran out of something. Rather than going to the supply closet or wherever your office/work stores supplies, you have some ready on standby. I am not saying, keep an additional hundred saliva ejectors hanging around your room, but it’s nice to have a few extras.

Use the Space

Use all the operatory’s cabinet and drawer space to your advantage. Tray racks and shelving help make the most of cabinet space. Items you grab out of a drawer the most should be in the most easily accessible drawer – perhaps the top drawer.

Dividers, Bins, & Organizers

Use dividers, organizers, bins, or whatever you can find to compartmentalize your supplies. In my case, I recently bought these small, plastic cubes with four drawers to hold all the different flavors of prophy paste. I added labels and now don’t need to search for that last bubble gum prophy paste at the bottom of the box.

Think outside of the Box… or Cabinet

At times, you will find a bin or a divider you like, but it won’t fit in a cabinet or drawer. Sometimes you have to be creative. I really wanted to purchase a three drawer bin to keep all my flossing aids, like long handled floss and rubber tips, but I couldn’t find the perfect size. One option was too small to fit my homecare supplies while the second option was too big for my cabinet shelf. I finally figure out I could use a pencil holder/desk organizer-like item to have my supplies standing up (rather than laying the supplies down flat) in each compartment.

Be Aware or Beware

Keep in mind that some items have expiration dates. Possibly organize supplies by expiration dates. Some common materials with expiration dates are fluoride varnishes, mouth rinses, toothpaste, and local anesthetics. When stocking items that expire, remember, “First in, first out.” Meaning when you restock, put new items in the back or below of what’s already there so older items can be used first, making less chance of product expiring and going to waste.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Patient’s will always appreciate a welcoming environment. Many patients, especially new patients, may be fearful or encountered bad experiences in the past in dental environments. Bringing your patient back to a room with a positive, safe, clean atmosphere can be very impactful to the experience. Lighting can brighten the room. If you have a window or a view, let that be a noticed. Don’t close the blinds the entire day and have the patient feel closed off. If you don’t have a window, that’s okay. Perhaps you can have artwork or photos on the walls to warm up the operatory. Background music can also help calm patients down.

Once in a while sit in the patient chair and look around. Does your operatory look like a place you’d like to be treated? While in the chair, flip the overhead light on – does it have streak marks from disinfectant?

Take Care of your Work Home

You are at work, a lot. Sometimes more than being at home, so why not take care of your environment? You already take care of the equipment and instruments you use each day. This could include making sure the room is left in a good state; the chair and floors are cleaned, and cabinets and drawers are restocked for the next day. Preparing yourself for the following day can help if you find yourself in a time crunch the next morning.

Personalize

Not all dental hygienists are the same, so show it off. Personalizing your space is one of the first introductions to your patients. Make your room your own, as much as your job allows. Some ideas are alongside your license, having your degree(s) hanging in your operatory, maybe a small photo of your family or pet, a funny dental-related photo, or just some artwork you enjoy.

Everyone is different, and so are their organization habits. I bet at least some of you readers, have experienced someone else critiquing where you put something in your room. Just because someone has their prophy paste in a drawer rather than a cabinet, does not mean it’s wrong. Having an operatory that is organized and aesthetically pleasing to your patients can make you feel proud and can make your patients feel more comfortable.

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Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS
Since a very young age, Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS, had always wanted to be a hygienist. Kate was the youngest student in her class and graduated in 2017. She is extremely passionate about homecare and loves her prophy pastes and fluoride varnish. Even though she hasn’t been in practice for long, she continues to be involved in the dental field as much as possible. Kate is part of the ADHA Mentor Liaison in her state of Massachusetts, in which she is a resource for students who will be graduating. She is now an educator on the clinic floor at her dental hygiene school program. Her goal is to one day teach in both the classroom and the clinic floor once she achieves a Master's degree. She is also considering becoming a dental therapist once it’s approved by the legislature in her state. One of Kate's newly found passions is community service with a non-profit organization that helps fight against hygiene insecurity in all ages in her community. When she isn’t working, she enjoys sports, being a movie buff, photography, and spending time with her family.