I’ve been practicing for seven years now as a dental hygienist as well as many years prior as an assistant. I’ve seen all types of scheduling − 30 minutes with a hygiene assistant, 40 minutes with the “you must see 10 patients a day” doctor, and 60 minutes with the doctor who understands our value.
Consultants have stated this time and time again: “The busier the hygiene department, the better restorative is.” In theory, that might sound like it makes sense, but I’ve experienced and seen it a different way, and I’m sure you have, too.
Here’s what happens when you allow your hygienist to have a full hour with their patients:
They’re Not Rushed!
I know that may sound like a silly and unimportant concept to most (and maybe even your boss), but think of the valued time. A patient’s time is just as important as ours. More than likely, that patient is taking time off work to be there since most offices are open 8 to 5.
How annoyed would you feel if you could tell you were being rushed in and out? Also, ladies and gents, I don’t know about you, but when I’m rushed, it’s very difficult for me to hide that from my patients. It’s not fun, and you leave that day feeling beat down and tired.
When hygienists are not rushed, we can ask personal questions about the patients and their families and build rapport and trust. It’s that relationship that gives the patient the confidence to say “yes” to treatment even when they may not fully understand the information we are throwing at them. They trust us with their health needs. That doesn’t come easily.
The Comprehensive Approach
(This is where your boss should start reading)
With 40-minute hygiene appointments, we are getting the bare minimum done − medical history review, radiographs, quick perio check, scaling, and the 30-second doctor exam. Yeah, we’ll find that DO on #14 that needs to be done or that amalgam that needs to be replaced if doing single-tooth basic dentistry is your boss’s thing. In that case, maybe the 40-minute hygiene appointment works for his or her office.
Here’s how much can change with the proper support, time, and continuing education:
- Remember that amalgam we found that needs to be replaced? Sure, you (meaning your boss, who should also be reading this) can just simply replace it and watch the composite break down in a few years. Maybe it becomes a crown next time, and you’re left with a grouchy patient.
- Or, your hygienist could have the time to be able to step back and take a more comprehensive look at the patient’s occlusion, habits, or possible airway issues. Maybe they can have the time to ask the appropriate questions that lead to recommending or discussing an occlusal appliance, orthodontics, airway resistance appliances, or the big one that will lead to a happy boss − full mouth rehab!
Wow, a lot just happened because we had some extra time. Moreover, what happens when that patient is done with ortho, and you can confidently fix the wear on those front teeth they’ve been complaining about for years? (Hello, veneers!)
These are potentially all big money-making conversations that take time to explain, especially when finances and insurance coverage come up. Hygienists take the time to take intraoral pictures or some occlusal shots. We all come across many patients throughout our day who use pain as an indicator of needing treatment and resisting our recommendations.
Can you blame them since they have no clue what we’re talking about when we’re throwing out dental terms and costs right away? Let the pictures of the decay, breakdown, and occlusal wear do the talking for you. Trust me, they get the picture quickly when they can put a visual to our concerns.
Oh, but remember, we only have 40 minutes, and the next patient is waiting. We cleaned their teeth and did our job − time for us to move on. We don’t have time to go grab a camera or explain to them what paranormal occlusal is and what it’s doing to the $20k worth of work they already put into their mouth.
What if the periodontal disease we’ve been battling to control was a partial result of their impaired occlusion? What if we never had time to ask questions about their uncontrolled diabetes and the reason there is so much inflammation and all those nice pretty crowns you (again, the dentist reading this) did two years ago look like garbage now? Are you replacing those for free since insurance isn’t going to pick that up yet?
With an hour, now these patients are seeing us take the time to look at the whole picture and their health. With additional time, we’re able to educate patients to accept treatment because it’s what’s best for their health. Now look, that restorative column is filling up with fewer patients but longer blocks and high production procedures. Direct referrals are up because patients can’t stop talking about how friendly and informative their hygienists and dentists are.
I don’t know about you, but if I could work less and make more money, I would be pretty happy, wouldn’t you?
It’s a simple concept, and I’ve seen it transform an office. It leads to more production and a healthier work environment for everyone. The compliments from the patients pour in, and it’s so rewarding to be thanked for your services.
What we do is not easy and can become monotonous. It’s the relationships that we build with our patients and watching them get closer to optimal health that makes our jobs so rewarding, and that takes time (cough, cough, 60 minutes).
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