Tips for Hosting a Dental Hygiene Temp to Keep them Returning

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Sandy arrives at the dental office 15 minutes early, as requested, to prepare for a temp assignment. She smiles as she walks in the door, carrying her lunch bag and change of clothes.

“Hi, and you are?” comes from the only person at the front desk as she scrolls through her phone without fully looking up.

“Hi, I am Sandy. I am your temp hygienist for today,” she answers.

Eyes roll a little. The schedule is checked. With a deep sigh, the person at the front desk responds, “Oh man, I didn’t know we were having another temp today. OK, I’ll go see where I’m supposed to put you. I’ll be right back.”

Sandy waits, a little confused and now a little worried. Holding her composure, she stands there. Patients are already sitting and waiting, and she feels awkward.

The unwelcoming person at the front desk returns and has yet to introduce herself.

“Follow me,” is all she says.

The two walk to the breakroom, where she is told to sit and wait while they “figure out what’s happening.” That is how the day starts for Sandy.

Feel Welcomed and Appreciated?

Does that sound like somewhere you’d want to work? How about even temp for an hour? Would you feel welcomed and appreciated, or feel like the rest of the day will go smoothly? Don’t even answer that. We all know, anyway.

The rise in temp dental hygiene services is directly proportional to the diminishing number of permanent dental hygienists in both Canada and the United States, particularly since the pandemic.1,2 At some point, your office is going to need the services of a temp dental hygienist.

Hygienists who temp are savvy with their business sense and know they have options. They will not return to a dental office that did not give them the warm fuzzies at the first visit. They know finding work elsewhere will not be difficult, so you better be prepared.

Treat temps well, and they will return, time and again. This is when you know you’re doing a great job as a dental host, and word will get around. Heck, you’ll even have a handful of temps at your beck and call if one temp tells another.

Now, wouldn’t this be a much more welcome scenario?

Sandy enters the workplace where she is to temp for the day.

“Welcome, Sandy! I’m Sarah, the office manager. Wow, thank you so much for coming to help us today. We didn’t want to cancel our long-term patients’ appointments when we got a call from their regular hygienist that she fell ill today. You’re truly a gem!”

“Hey, no worries at all. I love working at different dental practices, meeting new people, and helping out when I can. Thank you so much for inviting me to lend a hand today,” Sandy responded.

“I have our lead dental assistant, Jennifer, in the back, setting up your op. She will also show you where all your instruments are kept and answer any questions you have throughout the day. We want you to have a good day without any worries. Sound good?”

“That is so relieving, Sarah. It makes it so much easier to visit a new office when I know who to turn to for questions and to be welcomed right from the front door. Thank you very much!”

That, my friends, is how to greet a temp when they help save our schedule from collapsing and/or give one of our hard-working hygienists a much-needed break or holiday. We want them to return to us, treat our beloved patients with respect, and feel like part of the team, even if just for the day. Do we not?

How to Host a Dental Hygiene Temp

So how do we host a dental hygiene temp, you say? Well, you’re in luck! I have a handy list of dos and don’ts to prepare you for a great temp-day for all.

I’ll start by saying I temp. A lot. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’ve seen it all. I’ve been on the end of being the temp hygienist as well as hosting one in several offices where I have worked. I’ve even written other articles on what to do and what not to do when temping as a hygienist. This is how passionate I am about this topic.

However, I have been inspired to write yet another temping article on the dos and don’ts of hosting a temp hygienist. “Why?” you may ask. Simple. I have discovered that not all offices are created equal, and as the industry is quickly changing, we need to adapt to the “new normal.”

Temping is on the rise, and it seems to be here to stay. If we want our offices to succeed and be known as the “go-to” place to temp, we should look at what we are doing to either promote a welcoming atmosphere or what to do to change things to make sure temps don’t run away screaming and spreading the word to “avoid THAT ONE at all costs!”

Top 8 Things to Avoid When Hosting a Temp Hygienist

Let’s start off by listing the top eight things to avoid when hosting a temp. This will give us a positive ending by suggesting the top eight things we can do to be the best place to temp. Ever.

1) Short notice canceling or shortening promised shift time

Avoid canceling with short notice or intentionally shortening a shift to favor your permanent staff. This is not showing respect or appreciation to your temp who has scheduled their time to help you in your time of need, and you wouldn’t want this done to you.

2) Deny your temp hygienist a lunch break

Give your temp the much-needed lunch break they deserve to refresh themselves. Even if the other hygienists like to work through their lunch break, do not assume this is what you should expect from your temp. If the other hygienists like to work through their lunch, give your temp a 30-minute paid break to show your appreciation to them. They will love you for it. Guaranteed.

3) Assume the temp knows your software program

Have a cheat sheet handy for the temp to refer so they can quickly and easily find patient medical history, clinical notes, perio charting, and radiographs. Do not expect them to be in charge of any patient billing or appointment scheduling. Leave those tasks for permanent staff so the temp doesn’t feel rushed or panicked about doing it incorrectly.

4) Expect the temp to sterilize instruments

I am not saying the temp shouldn’t offer to jump in and help in sterilization, but it should not be expected. Beyond CDC guidelines, a temp isn’t necessarily in the office long enough to learn all of the ins and outs of your specific office’s sterilization protocols. You want your temp to feel like a guest in your home. Serve them well, and they will return.

5) Not having a specific go-to person for the temp to turn to for questions

Always have someone on standby with a friendly personality who will welcome the temp and answer questions. For example, someone who can grab or point out where supplies are, answer dental software questions, or anything else that comes up when a temp isn’t familiar with the systems. Knowing there is help when needed will allow the temp to relax a little so they can focus on providing patient care.

6) Supply your temp with duller-than-doornail instruments

This is a big one! I temp so much that I’ve almost come to expect dull instruments when I arrive. In my experience, it’s rare to find sharp instruments ready for the temp to use because they tend to have temps use different instruments than the permanent hygienist(s) use.

When this is the case, no one seems to be in charge of sharpening those “temp-only” instruments. Maybe see if a hygienist will take some time to keep temp-only instruments sharp once in a while. And yes, of course, pay the hygienist for their time.

Whether an office has different sets of instruments for a temp and their permanent hygienist(s), instruments should be kept sharp and replaced when necessary.

7) Have the operatory closed upon the temp’s arrival with no water in the delivery system and nothing stocked for the day

Talk about added pressure to force upon your temp hygienist when they are already unfamiliar with where things are and are trying to stay on time. They now have the extra challenge of needing to find and restock items that easily could have been stocked the previous day by someone who knows where everything is located. Totally unnecessary and an easy proactive fix.

8) Forget to compensate a temp by the agreed-upon method promptly

Don’t we all want to get paid on time? Why on earth would a temp ever return to work for an office where they had to beg for their earned pay for the day? Professional courtesy says to pay them on time.

Top 8 Things To Do When Hosting a Temp Hygienist

Now for the good part. Let’s end on a positive note and give you some excellent pointers. Consider putting these practices into play when you’ve hired a temp hygienist for the day. I promise they will help keep them happy and more likely to return to you over other bidders!

1) Audit before shift

The office manager, team lead, or another hygienist should look over the day ahead and anticipate any needed patient treatment, perio charting, radiographs, and perhaps patients who necessitate treatment modifications such as for medical reasons, temperament, or preferences for care.

By doing this proactively, the temp hygienist is set up for success with much less stress, as they will know what to expect and that the office has patients’ and their best interests at the forefront.

2) Sharp instruments

As previously stated, we certainly shouldn’t expect the temp hygienist to be given anything less than great instruments to use to facilitate efficient patient care and avoid unnecessary strain for your temp dental provider.

3) Be appreciative

Think of the scenarios at the beginning of this article. Which office manager most appreciated the temp coming in to assist? Does it not stand to reason that the one who showed the most appreciation will be the same one who will have temps happy to return the next time there is a need?

4) Allow a temp time to get settled after they walk through the front door

I’ve temped in several offices that, immediately after entering the front door, took me to the operatory I’ll be working in for the day while I’m still holding my backpack with a change of clothes and lunch. Meanwhile, I haven’t even had the chance to visit the bathroom (sometimes I drive quite a while, so this is a necessary evil!), put my backpack and lunch in the break room, or even breathe for a moment and find my bearings of the office – like where the bathroom even is.

5) Give a tour of the operatory, sterilization, and stock room

As a follow-up to the previous point, once your temp is settled with their personal belongings put away and lunch in the fridge, please give a little tour of the operatory and where to find clean instruments, deliver the ones to be sterilized, the stock room, and anywhere else they may need to know throughout the day. This will save them some time and other team members time who may be too busy when the temp needs to find something.

6) Introduce to the rest of the team, especially who will be the go-to person for any questions throughout the day

If a specific team member can fulfill this role, it makes for an easier day for the temp, which translates to a more fluid day for the practice.

7) Have the first set of instruments out and ready for the first patient, with other trays set up and easily accessible, with the computer in the operatory turned on and signed in

Again, I stress efficiency and setting your temp up for success.

8) Pay the temp as per agreement, as promptly as possible

Yes, this was mentioned already in the don’ts section, but I saved it for my final point. To be transparent, this is a grievance that I have witnessed many temp hygienists, including myself, discuss with other hygienists in private online groups.

Please show the respect your temp deserves and pay them as per the written or verbal agreement when accepting the assignment. Additionally, please pay according to federal/state taxation laws (United States) or province (Canada).

In Closing

Let’s recap. Hosting a temp is bound to happen sooner or later in today’s new dental world. You can be the place temp hygienists flock to or run away from. What one will you choose? Set the right tone, and you’re golden. Your choice. Your outcome. I wish you well in your journey, as it’s yours to live and share with others.

As the actor Steve Martin said, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”

Before you leave, check out the Today’s RDH self-study CE courses. All courses are peer-reviewed and non-sponsored to focus solely on high-quality education. Click here now.

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


  1. 2021 Job Market and Employment Survey Reported Findings. (2021). Canadian Dental Hygienists Association.
  2. Morrissey, R.W., Gurenlian, J.R., Estrich, C.G., et al. Employment Patterns of Dental Hygienists in the United States During the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Update. Journal of Dental Hygiene. 2022; 96(1): 27-33.
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Corina Hartley, RDH
Corina Hartley, RDH, is a Canadian Durham College graduate from the province of Ontario. Practicing dental hygiene since 2006, she has experienced the challenges of commuting to big cities, working in remote areas, and temping at various offices with differing ethnic backgrounds. While her family will always be her first love, the dental world is certainly the field she is passionate about, and writing about it brings her immense joy. Corina has a unique ability to relax the most phobic patient and calm an irate one with a smile, an understanding attitude, and a special sense of humor. She enjoys really getting to the heart of the matter with everything she does in life, and this is demonstrated by her witty writing abilities. Corina’s biggest desire is to share life with as many people as possible through close-up experiences, storytelling, and simply just being present.