5 Ways Dentists Should Support Their Dental Hygiene Team Members

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My roommate and I are both hygienists, which often makes for some entertaining discussions over dinner after we both finish up our workdays and get home. Between the two of us, we have worked at a few different dental offices, have seen a variety of office cultures, met our fair share of dentists, and have often talked about the different ways dental hygienists are treated by their boss.

Granted, for the most part, we have had positive experiences, and now we both work for a great office and have amazing mentors, managers, and dentists. But we have also heard our fair share of not-so-great stories from fellow hygienists.

I have heard a few common desires expressed by my fellow hygienists when they talk about the dentists they work for, which has inspired me to write this article. So without further ado, here are five key ways that dentists can and should support their dental hygiene team members, and in this way, contribute to a healthy office environment.

Value Your Hygienist’s Clinical Skills

Hygienists receive an immense amount of training, (not to mention, how much they hone their skills once they’ve begun practicing in the real world!) to provide their patients with exceptional non-surgical periodontal therapy. They also strive to provide evidence-based care. A good hygienist will stay current on scientific literature and attend various continuing education opportunities in an effort to learn about anything that can be incorporated into improving patient care and office success. So if a hygiene team member brings research to your attention, or wants to amend office protocol based on the latest scientific findings, you should take their suggestions into consideration.

Support Your Hygienist in Furthering Their Education

Try to help provide them with opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills, and confidence. Whether it’s the time to attend a continuing education conference, pursuing professional development opportunities, or even just hosting lunch and learns for your team, their self-improvement will improve patient care, and increase morale.

Allow Your Hygienist to Take the Time They Need with Their Patients

I frequently hear hygienists complaining about their appointment lengths getting shorter and shorter. Meanwhile, their list of tasks to accomplish in that window of time gets longer and longer! Trust your hygiene team member when they say they need that extra fifteen minutes or half an hour with a patient. They are working hard, whether that time is spent educating, polishing off some extra tenacious staining, or providing some extra support to someone they are coaching in tobacco cessation. When a hygienist has the time to help their patients reach their oral health goals, everybody wins.

Support the Advice that Your Hygiene Team Member is Giving Their Patient

It can be tough spending an hour telling a patient they have severe gingivitis and giving them individualized instructions on how they need to change their homecare, and then having a dentist come in and finish off the exam with a “You’re doing great! Keep doing what you’re doing!” Keep in mind that you are often seeing the end result of some hard, hygiene labour! There usually isn’t any plaque, calculus, or stain left to tell the patient that they need to work harder to remove. It can be a good idea to get a quick heads up from the hygienist on a patient’s current oral health or homecare habits so that the patient can hear the same message from both of their healthcare providers.

Let Your Hygienists Know You Respect Them

We all know the value we bring to your team as a hygienist. But sometimes, hearing it goes a long way and can turn a tough day into a good one!

At the end of the day, hygienists have so much respect and appreciation for the dentists they work for. And there are a lot of amazing dentists out there who treat their dental hygiene team members like gold. Here’s hoping that all dental hygienists can get the five-star treatment they deserve, and pass that treatment on to greater patient care, and greater success for their office!

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Ilona Kaliszuk, RDH, BSc, is a graduate of the University of Alberta, where she discovered her passion for dental hygiene and working with underserved populations. Her work at the free, student-run dental clinic SHINE, and the coordination of an in-school oral health education program during her time as a student earned her the College of Registered Dental Hygienists of Alberta (CRDHA) Leadership Award, and the CRDHA Student Award of Merit. She practices clinically in Edmonton, and also works as an Independent Professional Educator for Waterpik. Ilona aspires to spread awareness on increasing access to oral health for vulnerable populations, and to spread her love for all things involving teeth! When she is not working, Ilona can be found hanging out with her dog at the park, or baking sweet treats.