Career Satisfaction: Could Accelerated Hygiene Equal Accelerated Burnout?

© mario beauregard / Adobe Stock

Some dentists are switching to the trend of assisted or accelerated hygiene. In this concept, the assistants go over medical history, take radiographs, polish, and stay for the exam with the doctor. This leaves just periodontal charting, ultrasonic scaling, and hand scaling up to the hygienist.

For the dentist or office manager, this increases production by stacking patients in the schedule. For the hygienist, this could increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and burnout.

Every office is different. For some offices, this type of scheduling actually works. For me, it did not work. It made work a stressful, exhausting environment. I was so unhappy with myself and my lack of care for the patient that I became the toxic person in the office. I was miserable. I was so mentally and physically exhausted that I was always complaining. I didn’t dare look ahead on the schedule because I was dreading the next day. I would lose sleep the night before.

Four Rooms in 45 Minutes

The office had four chairs with four columns of patients scheduled for 45 minutes each. There were four assistants, one per room or per patient. The assistants would seat the patients, go over health history, take radiographs if needed, and polish either before or after scaling.

I was the only hygienist, so I would start with whoever was ready first. Here’s the breakdown. Room one was the doctor’s treatment room. I would start my day in room one to give anesthetic for the doctor’s patient. The next three rooms were for hygiene treatment. In room two, I would probe, ultrasonic, and hand scale. Meanwhile, the patients in rooms three and four were getting polished first. As soon as I got done in room two, I’d jump to the next room to probe, ultrasonic, and hand scale.

All to have to rush to the final room to do the same routine. If I had an SRP patient, I would start by giving local anesthetic. Then I would then jump to the next room for the usual routine. All of this occurred while the SRP patients had to wait on me to get back to them.

All four rooms, all four patients, in 45 minutes. On average, I was given about eight minutes per patient. On occasion, I’d be given a Post-it note from the doctor saying I had only five minutes. Often, we would run behind schedule because I did not have enough time allowed per patient’s needs. I was told to leave calculus behind and blame them next time for not flossing. I did not get to see the completed work and would feel guilty for not giving the patient the best care.

Yes, it was nice to have help from the assistants to chart while I was probing and suctioning while I used the ultrasonic scaler. But it was not enough. The time and demands were just too much. I asked many times for a second hygienist. I even requested to stagger the schedule so I could at least scale every patient first. All my requests, including a raise, were met with a no response.

I lasted four long years at that job. I tried giving an ultimatum with my demands to stay. I requested that they stagger the schedule so I could start with scaling every patient instead of polishing first. If that was not an option, then I requested a second hygienist. I requested I only see two columns, not three columns of patients. I requested a hygiene budget to be able to order instruments of my choice. I also requested a raise since I was bringing in a huge chunk for production. They were not willing to make any changes, so I gave my notice of quitting. When I quit, I did not have another job lined up. I took a leap of faith.

Let’s face it. When I quit, I was so burned out that I had no desire of doing dental hygiene again. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

Is Accelerated Hygiene Worth It?

Maybe, just maybe, if they had met my demand for staggering the schedule with only two columns of patients. Maybe if you have a rock star assistant helping you get through the day. Maybe if you are allowed to take the time patient treatment needs to do a job well done. Maybe accelerated hygiene could work if you are employed for a dental practice that is willing to listen and adjust the schedule as needed.

My experience in accelerated hygiene left me completely burned out. At that time, I did not want to do dental hygiene ever again. My body was screaming in pain. I had so much guilt from not doing a good job for my patients. And I was just plain exhausted from being overworked and underpaid. In my experience and opinion, no accelerated hygiene is not worth it.

My Schedule, My Patient

While I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I tried temping. I live in a rural area, so most of the temp jobs were at least an hour’s drive for me. I didn’t see my kids before they woke up and got home after they were in bed on some days. I cried a lot. I knew traveling and temping were not the lifestyle I wanted for my family.

As I was searching for more local dental offices to temp, a dental hygiene job opened up in my hometown. I took this a sign and accepted the job offer. While there may be pros and cons to every office or job, at this office, it’s my schedule, my patient. I have the patient for the entire appointment. This is the way I feel it should be. I get to complete my work and know that I did my job well.

I let go of the stressful environment and the toxic person I had become. I ran into one of the girls I used to work with. She said, “Wow, you look so happy now!” I am. It’s not about the money and bonuses of running a prophy mill. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing you did your best for every patient.

Now Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below: