Why Hygienists Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Make Changes Based on New Protocols and Products

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Article presented by OraCare.

Although dental hygiene school gives an excellent knowledge base, gone are the days when dental hygienists could say, “This is how I learned it in hygiene school.” Today’s savvy, health-conscious dental patients are looking for dental hygienists who treat them as individuals and say, “This is how we have become the area’s most advanced dental practice.” Fortunately, a growing number of today’s dental hygienists are willing to embrace change and are seeking employment in progressive dental practices that are flexible and forward-thinking. Below is a look at the key differences between progressive dental practices and old-fashioned or orthodox practices, along with the reasons why dental hygienists should not be afraid to make changes that will benefit their patients.

What are some of the hallmarks of old-fashioned or orthodox dental practices?

Old-fashioned dental practices are known for sticking to traditional methods of patient care even when new and superior treatment options are available. Their dentists and dental hygienists are often fearful of change and are reluctant to mention the availability of cutting-edge products because they are not familiar with them. The top hallmarks of old-fashioned or orthodox dental practices are as follows:

  • Old-fashioned or orthodox practices fear change and stick to procedures and products with which they are familiar
  • They often use a cookie-cutter approach, providing the same treatment recommendations to every patient
  • Practice owners foster a stagnant work culture that discourages learning and development
  • They are often so afraid of being wrong that they are reluctant to speak their minds

How do progressive dental practices stand out from their competitors?

Progressive dental practices differ from old-fashioned or orthodox dental practices in virtually every way. From their tendency to embrace new treatments to their emphasis on learning, progressive dental practices always seem to be among the first to adopt state-of-the-art equipment, procedures, and products to treat their patients. The key features of progressive dental practices are as follows:

  • Progressive practices embrace changes that will help patients and advance the field of dentistry
  • They treat patients as individuals with a specific set of needs
  • Practice owners establish a culture of learning that promotes ongoing education and employee development
  • They are not afraid to change their treatment protocols for the betterment of their patients
  • Progressive practices recommend cutting-edge products such as OraCare to kill viruses, fungi, and volatile sulfur compounds without side effects

What can dental hygienists do to promote progressive patient care?

Clearly, progressive dental practices have much to offer patients. However, progressive patient care does not unfold on its own. Dental hygienists should be encouraged to make changes based on new protocols and practices. In fact, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) states that dental hygienists are expected to “maintain awareness of changing trends in dental hygiene, health, and society that impact dental hygiene care.” This expectation can be carried out by dental hygienists in the following ways:

1) Establish a mindset of continued learning

Learning does not occur in a vacuum in the field of dental hygiene. Dental hygienists who establish a mindset of continued learning will become pioneers in their profession as opposed to simply following the pack. Here are some specific ways that dental hygienists can engage in continuous learning and stay up to date with current protocols:

  • Take CE courses which engage you and further your learning
  • Attend dental conferences to learn about the latest treatments and techniques
  • Participate in professional development activities, such as study clubs
  • Read dental publications and journals and be sure to fact check. Hesitate from only reading headlines. Further, when reading articles or company claims, check references to studies to make sure claims are represented accurately and not “cherry-picked,” making them inaccurate
  • Read and keep the manufacturers’ instructions on equipment and products you use. Refer back to them if you have questions
  • Check your state’s board of dentistry website and practice act occasionally to make sure you are practicing within your scope and lawfully.
  • Have your read the CDC guidelines recently? This is another source that should be reviewed often, and most likely can answer questions you may have
  • Overall, use the critical thinking skills you learned from dental hygiene school. Critical thinking will always be in style!

2) Treat patients as individuals with unique needs

A good bedside manner helps to promote trust and openness among patients. When interacting with new and existing patients, dental hygienists should avoid the tendency to ask the same exact battery of questions with every patient. Every patient presents with a unique set of needs that deserve specialized attention from a dental hygienist. By avoiding a cookie-cutter approach and engaging in open dialogue, dental hygienists can often uncover key factors that can impact treatment outcomes.

3) Recommend products and procedures that are backed by evidence-based research

Throughout their professional career in any practice setting, a dental hygienist is expected to…access and utilize current, valid, and reliable evidence in clinical decision-making through analyzing and interpreting the literature and other resources.”

–  American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHD)

Dental hygienists should avoid the temptation to recommend products or procedures that are based on opinion or hunches. The ADHD recommends utilizing the most current evidence to make treatment decisions.

4) Suggest products and treatments that benefit the patient

Old-fashioned or orthodox practices often tend to suggest the same products and course of treatment to every patient. In many cases, this is the easiest course of action for the practice but not necessarily the patient. As a progressive dental hygienist, you should always consider the needs and health of the patient when making product recommendations. Products such as OraCare oral rinse represent a revolutionary change from orthodox practices that fall back on chlorhexidine because it is the treatment they learned about in school, perhaps years ago.

5) Always keep patient safety in mind

Today’s most successful progressive dental hygienists never overlook the important role that patient safety plays when caring for patients. Before forging ahead with an exciting new product or treatment, be sure to evaluate it carefully to confirm that it has been deemed safe for use with patients. Most importantly, always participate in required safety and compliance training to ensure that you protect yourself, your patients, and your colleagues.

The Bottom Line

Dental hygienists have a responsibility to maintain an awareness of the latest evidence-based treatments and products. Unfortunately, some dental hygienists fear change and are reluctant to branch out beyond the treatments they learned years ago in dental hygiene school. In some cases, they are hindered by a workplace culture that discourages continued learning and innovative patient care. By following the steps above, along with a willingness to always keep learning, dental hygienists can establish themselves as a trusted and knowledgeable resource for their patients and their employers.

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Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP
Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP, is a Co-founder and the Chief Content Officer of Today’s RDH. Kara is a writer of popular articles that share practical advice and tips for hygienists, all in an informative and entertaining way. Beyond light-hearted content, Kara writes researched articles on topics in dental hygiene that educate hygienists on best practices and current protocols.

A graduate of the Oregon Institute of Technology, Kara has a deep passion for spreading knowledge about the importance of oral health and how it relates to the entire body. Kara’s passion extends to helping other hygienists understand the latest protocols, products, and research — all with the goal to push the profession forward.

Kara lives in Vancouver, WA with her fiancé Ben, and their rescued Chihuahua fur-babies, Bug & Lily. Beyond her love of dental hygiene, Kara enjoys spending time with her family, riding the Oregon dunes on her quads, and exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest and all it has to offer.