Not too long ago, a patient showed up with a crocheted blanket for one of our hygienists who was expecting a baby soon. I witnessed two women, one in her childbearing years and one with grown children and grandchildren, a patient and a hygienist, who had built a special relationship. I believe a bond was formed over patient care between a hygienist and her patient that didn’t stop at “you need to floss daily.”
Dental hygiene can be a means by which we achieve clean teeth and healthy gingival tissue, or it can be that with so much more. I have more often than not found a patient wants a friendly face rather than a “you missed an appointment” scowl. Our job as a practicing hygienist is patient care which leads to no missed appointments because of a welcoming atmosphere, a familiar smile, and something they weren’t quite expecting at the dental office. I’m not talking putting on a show but instead offering an invitation for friendship over clean teeth.
Compassion and warm welcomes give sunshine it’s fill in a room and makes a patient feel like they are wanted there. Not because it’s their recall appointment and their name is on the schedule, but because you remember them and you genuinely cannot wait to visit with them. Every day is new. Today has never been lived. Each day is an opportunity to reach out with kindness.
When a new patient walks in and has no idea what to expect, we can show hope to them. Hope being the expectation of something greater than dental fear and anxiety. We can laugh, cry, or welcome both. It doesn’t make us more to laugh or less to cry. Joy and sadness are not born from happiness nor defeat. They are born from something deeper in our hearts. When we give of ourselves as a hygienist, we pour meaning and life into someone creating a ripple effect we can’t yet see and hopefully, one day will. Like six degrees to Kevin Bacon but it’s (your name inserted here).
When we make a constant effort to put aside schedules, demands, meetings, charts and we really put a face to a name, a beating heart to a living, breathing being, and welcome them into our lives, we build relationships. We tear down staunch, cold routine and we offer blankets, handshakes, or maybe even a hug. We place a baked cookie in the same bag as a new toothbrush. We build rapport, and we build teams. We congratulate home care routines they stick too, we cheer for pocket depths that are healthy, we find solutions to that area they can’t quite reach, we celebrate family, and we pray for that hurt they may carry.
We bring comedy as we floss for the mom that lost the most and we explain big things in small ways for the patient who needs dental work, so they aren’t overwhelmed. We make wakeup calls for the patient that worked all night and comes in on his only day off in a month. We hand out extra cookies for that sweet, senior man going home to take care of his wife. We form huddles and cry as an office when a patient’s health begins to fail, and we show up to funerals when one of our patients goes home too soon. We are more than a dental office; we are a family, a home. We sit, we talk, we care, and we make healthy smiles together.
As you can tell this would be a lot of work for just one, two, or a team of hygienists, and it certainly doesn’t happen in a day. It takes a patient, a hygienist, and an entire dental team to carry it all out. From the moment they walk in until the moment they walk out, we can change how a patient views us. We can go from “what we do” to “who we are” in patient care. Will you join me?