10 Ways to Build a Positive Dental Office Culture for Employees & Patients

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Culture is defined by the character and personality of your organization. It’s what makes your organization unique and is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes. We as hygienists affect the culture or atmosphere of the dental office as much as the dentist or office manager. What can we do as a hygienist to create a great culture in our own office?

While building the culture of the dental office a few key factors to help:

  1. Show genuine concern and interest for co-workers and patients.
  2. Build relationships.
  3. Help to make traditions.
  4. Have a good attitude.
  5. Celebrate wins.
  6. Carry out the vision of the practice.
  7. Ask for a clear job description and identify strong suits.
  8. Communicate effectively
  9. Help to create a safe work environment
  10. Have fun and enjoy your job.

Show genuine interest and concern for each patient. Sit and face your patients when asking about medical history, problems in the mouth, and checking on them in general. While preparing your room and putting on your PPE ask questions about family and vacations. We always ask if anything exciting is happening. I will rejoice to hear about weddings, graduations, and babies and will grieve with the patients over crisis or deaths.

Every patient will be different and will require different attention. I had an elderly patient this afternoon that has had several major medical changes in the last six months. We spent the first ten minutes of the appointment discussing all the doctor’s appointments and how the changes have affected her life on a normal daily basis. But in the conversation, she told me she is going to California to see her new great grand baby who is five weeks old. She also states she will have a 2nd opinion while in California.

Show genuine interest and concern for your co-workers by paying attention to and asking how they are regularly. When people are going through a crisis, in general, they need to know that you are there for them. Show up to funerals of co-workers family members. Make a meal if one is in the hospital. People need to know they are cared about. Celebrate weddings, birthdays, babies, and anything new and exciting in their lives.

Take the time to build relationships with co-workers and with your patients. Building relationships takes time. We have that precious hour or 45 minutes once every three, four or six months with our patients. Take advantage of every minute to ask questions and to “catch up” with your regular patients. With new patients ask questions to get to know them and make a cheat sheet to refresh your memory at the next appointment.

Building a relationship with your co-worker takes efforts on both parts. Make a point to go to lunch with at least one coworker a week or month or whatever your budget allows. We have a nice size kitchen at work so we can stay there and eat and talk. PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN and have a conversation – it is so easy to get lost in your phone on social media or to check out and read a book. Find something you have in common and discuss. We regularly have new students coming in for rotations at our office. So we very often have to practice at building those new relationships.

Lead by example, do your job to the best of your abilities. Behave in a professional manner towards your co-workers and your patients. Have a good attitude and go above and beyond to help in every aspect of the office. Just because you have more education or experience does not mean you can’t take the trash out. Showing that you are a willing team-member sets a good example for the whole team.

Respect your team, both inside and outside of the practice. We all have had our “moments” with a team-member. My best advice is breath and walk away. Take a few minutes to calm yourself before reacting negatively. DO NOT post on social media about your issues at work. If you feel you need a mediator in the situation, please ask someone you trust in the office to help diffuse the situation. This does not always require the Doctor(s) or the office manager. There have been many times when a co-worker has approached me to handle a situation. This is because they know I will handle it in kindness and in a teaching manner.

Work within your job description. We may not have the powers to be to make the job descriptions, but we can help to carry out the description that is given to us. We can also be open-minded to adding responsibilities as they are assigned. I am a dental hygienist but I also am the radiation officer and the OSHA officer of our office. I also help with the maintenance of the equipment. Be open-minded to helping in every area of the office. This helps to create a unified team

Help to work the vision and mission statement of your office. Whether it comes from the doctors or the office manager, it is our job to help carry out the mission and or vision of the practice. Believe in and live out this mission while at work. When the practice grows, you grow.

Communication is key in the dental office to make sure everything is running like a well-oiled machine. Create a communication process in your office that works for everyone. We have routing slips that we write down treatment provided and what the patients need to return for recalls or restorative treatment, or if referrals need to be made. This makes for a smooth transition from the clinical staff to the front office for check out. Always introduce yourself to the patients. This helps them remember your name and help to build that connection.

Celebrate wins; we don’t need any excuses to celebrate in our office. We love our parties and potlucks that the whole team contributes and helps to organize. This helps to increase morale and helps to build relationships within the office. Take time to have work anniversaries and Christmas parties.

Create traditions within the office. We dress up for Halloween each year and create a theme for the whole office. Last year was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We even decorate the office and have fun with the whole day including a potluck lunch.

Identify strong suits. When you know what your teammate’s strong suits are it will be easier to help build relationships and build the practice. What you are strong in will help to build this practice in one way or another. One of our hygienists loves to organize, so she helps to keep the storage spaces perfect and helps to manage our office social media page. I am strong in administrative duties, so I handle all the maintenance and documentation for OSHA and radiation. We did have a very caring hygienist who loved to send cards. She would write out personal cards to our patients and co-workers that were celebrating or grieving – what a wonderful way to show interest and concern.

Create a safe environment for your co-workers. You can do this by always having an open ear and open door policy. We understand that life happens inside and outside the office. We want our office to be a safe place for all employees. Be the trusted person that people can talk to and confide in. We have security cameras and other safety measures in place for the overall safety of the office. Train each employee on these measures.

Use humor and fun on the job. As mentioned before, we dress up for Halloween each year, and we decorate the office in the same theme. Allow laughing and joking within a professional manner. Go to dinner and plan an activity. We love to attend local plays, ax throwing, and lake days. This does not always have to come from the doctors or office manager. We can plan these times as co-workers.

Helping to create the personality and culture of your office can be difficult, but is essential for success. The culture of your office can help in maintaining loyalty with co-workers and patients. This increases morale and happiness of the team.

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Valerie McClure, RDH, BS, MBA
Valerie McClure, RDH, BS, MBA, is a Dental Hygienist from Huntsville, Alabama, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She has served in the dental industry for 22 years. In 2005, Valerie graduated from Alabama Dental Hygiene Program. That same year, she earned a Bachelors of Science in Biology/Chemistry from Athens State University. In 2011, she graduated from Ashford University with a Master’s in Business Administration, with a specialty in Health Care Administration. Valerie served as a Dental Assistant/Front office assistant for the first ten years of her career as she worked her way through college. Over the last 12 years, she has worked as a dental hygienist for a private practice in Madison, Alabama. Currently, Valerie holds the position of Radiation Officer and OSHA Officer at her office. She is passionate about oral pathology, OSHA, and patient relations. Valerie is active in her community, serving on the Executive PTA Board for her children's school as Vice President of Ways and Means. This position allows her to utilize her training in event planning, fundraising, and grant writing. Valerie is also the Director of Children’s Ministry for ages 0-5 at her church, where she organizes, trains, and schedules volunteers.