A Letter to Dental Hygienists from Your Temp Hygienist

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Dear Permanent Dental Hygienist,

Thank you for the opportunity to treat your patients! You may be tending to a doctor’s appointment, family emergency, or a sick child at home. I hope that my presence as a temporary dental hygienist will help you be able to focus on the reason why you are out of the office today.

While I’m hopefully making your life easier, I feel the need to mention some things that would make filling in for you easier in the future.

A pet peeve while looking at chart notes is the lack of specific information and unfamiliar abbreviations. I am not talking about the universal abbreviations such as WNL, NSF, BWX, or FMX. It is the ones that you made up yourself or that are unique to your dental office, such as acronyms like MPP. After reading it eight times, I figured out that it meant mint prophy paste. To answer your next question, yes, I have sadly seen that in a clinical note.

Furthermore, please write down everything that you did at the previous appointment! I am talking about this: “RMH-NC. Pro, scale, polish, exam. *Insert hygienist’s initials*”

You did not do anything else in that whole, entire hour?! I am sure you did, but you did not document it, so it did not happen. Let me say it louder for the people in the back. It did not happen! Additionally, complete documentation leaves a positive lasting impression on the guest hygienist that just filled in for you. Should you need another day off, they just might agree to return.

I am not saying to always be the last one out the door while the office manager is flicking the lights for you to leave. We are all busy professionals. We barely have time to use the bathroom or take a sip of water, let alone sit and write novels about each and every patient’s treatment. But there has to be a happy medium, which I’d describe as a thorough and informative note in a concise fashion.  I don’t claim to record perfect documentation. If there is one thing that dentistry has taught me, though, it is to be teachable.

From day one, I was taught to write clinical notes as if I was not going to be the next hygienist to treat that patient. There should be absolutely no doubt about what was done.

You very well may not be the next hygienist to treat that patient, even if you think you will be. You just may decide to go on a family vacation or have a baby, and guess what? A poor temp hygienist is filling in for you.

Other Challenges for the Temp

Have you ever been a guest dental hygienist in an office for a day?

The temp has to figure out where to park the car and then fit in with the rest of the office members. He or she has to sign in to the computer and learn how to connect the x-ray sensor, not to mention, find where the extra supplies are located. It’s a different dental chair the temp is operating while trying to navigate the murky and uncharted waters of a new patient management system on the computer.

On top of it all, the temp now has to decipher a new language from the previous hygienist?

Talk about stressful! Things that are obvious to you might not be to another. Do not make their lives harder than they have to be. While you are enjoying umbrella drinks on the beach, your guest dental hygienist is trying to figure it all out!

And, another thing, do not be lazy! Update those medical histories. Do not just write “RMH ─ see med hx.” If I wanted to look at the whole medical history, I would. Rewrite the patient’s medications, medical conditions, allergies, and blood pressure. Document that the perio chart was updated or that they had radiographs. Take it a step further and document the type of radiographs. Better yet, if there are multiple doctors in the practice, write who did the periodic exam.

It just may spare some very awkward moments! If Mrs. Jones always has sensitivity on #11, write it! If Mr. Smith always gets mint fluoride varnish, document it! If Ms. Shaw always needs a pillow, say it! After the day your guest dental hygienist had, they do not want to be blindsided and hear from a patient that the “other hygienist” always does such and such.

At the end of the day, we are on the same team, and we are both in the RDH club. Help me so I can help you. Please and thank you!

Much love,

Your confused, tired, and fed-up guest dental hygienist

PS: Hope you enjoyed your umbrella drinks! I could use one.

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