Front Desk: Help Where It Makes Sense, Without Stepping on Toes

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Have you ever quarreled with the front desk personnel? No, never! No one ever disagrees, right? Fortunately and unfortunately, I have been in the front desk’s shoes. For two years before beginning dental hygiene school, I was the office manager for a dental practice. Guess what? It’s HARD WORK. I ultimately decided that reception/office work was not for me. However, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to be in their position so I can fully understand and grasp what it is they do and what they do for us as dental hygienists. Be grateful to them. Say thank you. Then say thank you again and again. When you have downtime (because no one ever cancels or no shows for a cleaning, right?) ask what you can do to be of help.

This does two things: First, the front desk personnel now see you are a team player and are willing to help you in return. Second, this strengthens your relationship with them, ensuring that they are in turn grateful for you. It is a two-way street and a delicate relationship.

For some offices “help” may mean you call some patients on the recall list.

If this bothers you, then you probably shouldn’t be a hygienist (sounds harsh, but hear me out). You care very much about your patients, right? Often, we know more about our patients than the receptionist or office manager. Think about it; you have been in their personal space, multiple times. There are things you can say that will have more impact on the patient than anyone else, whether it is regarding their personal life or their mouth. Making a few calls just might be the reason a patient returns for their prophy or periodontal maintenance appointment. If you offer to help, and the front desk person hands you the recall list, smile and make some calls!

I have worked in offices that seem to struggle with the so-called small things. For instance, a battery needing to be replaced in a clock, the shred pile stacked incredibly too high, or a cluttered drawer that needs to be organized. Noticing things and just taking care of them before asking to help is a great way to pitch in and impress your coworkers. Just do your best to not step on any toes. Seriously, don’t do it.

As hygienists, many of us are perfectionists.

We feel a need to reinvent the wheel or take over, so it is “done right” or even “our way.” Before taking over, remember this relationship between the front desk and RDH is a tricky, delicate one. When I say help without stepping on toes, it means not stepping in and changing what they are doing. When trying to help, do your best not to march up to the front desk and start changing things you are unhappy with, thinking you have better ideas.  Even if your ideas would solve issues, there is a time and place to suggest newer, better practices. During a work day is not one of them.

Let’s say you were in your operatory working, scaling the lower anterior region on a healthy adult when one of your front desk co-workers comes up to you and tells you they’ve got a better idea on how to remove calculus. This scenario probably never happens in practice; however, it does shed some perspective on what occurs for them if we were to put ourselves in their shoes. Do your very best to support and help your front desk personnel. The mutual respect will go a very long way. Find a time to sit down together if there are issues to discuss, outside of the patient work day.

Unfortunately, there are offices in which the front office staff is willing to cut corners, read between the lines, or ride the line of illegal and unethical.

As licensed professionals, we have every right to be notified of these situations. An office I worked in years ago liked to live on the edge. When I discovered the office was being audited by two different dental insurance companies at the same time, I was shocked. I did a little digging and discovered the office manager had billed out codes for dates I was the provider, and I did not perform said codes. In this case, you can step on toes. The one exception! We must protect our licenses, and insurance coding must be dealt with legally. It must be noted; I didn’t stay at that office very much longer.

Your front desk coworkers do not arrive in the morning and plan the demise of your schedule the moment they sit down, just an FYI. The schedule was one of the hardest parts of my job as an office manager years ago. The truth is, they are not babysitters, they can’t drop everything and go pick up patients, and it is NOT THEIR FAULT if the schedule completely falls apart. This is unless they failed to confirm the day or fill the schedule in the first place. Although, even if they didn’t confirm, most patients are adults, and I would think we’d be safe to say at least ninety percent or more have their dental appointment in their phone to remind them. All that aside, don’t judge your coworkers for this. I’m sure if it were broadcast all day, every day, if we missed a piece of calculus, we would feel awful about ourselves. Don’t dwell on the schedule, ask what you can do to help instead, and remember, don’t step on any toes.

Be happy, be slow to judge, be quick to help, don’t step on toes. The relationship will always be delicate, but the RDH-front desk relationship can improve if you follow these pointers!

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Heather Crockett, RDH
Heather was born and raised near Salt Lake City, Utah. In the year 2000, shortly after she graduated from high school, she became a dental assistant and trained on the job. During her dental assisting years, Heather grew to love dentistry and her passion for the profession grew. When she wasn’t at work, she was often reading a dental book from the library in an effort to learn more about dentistry.

In 2004, she began a two-year stretch working as office manager/receptionist at a dental office. Heather had no intentions of attending college, however, the amazing dentist she worked for and a great dental hygienist coworker, encouraged her to go to dental hygiene school. Another dental hygienist she worked with did just the opposite and discouraged her from a career in hygiene. This only fueled Heather more, as she has a drive to accept a challenge, and do more than what people expect. Heather attended the Utah College of Dental Hygiene and graduated in 2008. Shortly after graduation, the dreaded WREB exam was taken, and she aced it! For nearly ten years now, Heather has been serving the communities of Utah in private practice. Each office has proved to be a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and experience new and exciting things.

Other than her three maternity leaves, Heather has worked clinical hygiene two-four days per week since she graduated. She is working private practice three days a week for a dentist she hopes to retire with. Currently, Heather is also working as a Senior Ambassador for Burst Oral Care.

Heather’s experience in all aspects of the dental office make her a unique and valuable asset to all who work in the dental field. She offers a different perspective because of her varying skills and over seventeen years of total dental experience. Heather has a very light-hearted approach to her writing and hopes to assist others through her articles. Her ultimate goal is to someday speak to many dental professionals at conventions and offer continuing education to her colleagues.

Heather lives in Riverton, Utah, with her husband Jeff and their three boys. When she is not in the op or writing she loves hanging out with her family, watching football, and making some yummy gluten-free food.