Why the Dentist-Hygienist Partnership is Critical to Oral Health and Office Success

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Disclosure: This article is sponsored content from Heartland Dental as part of our sponsored partner program. Make sure to download your FREE dentist-hygienist partnership worksheet at the end of the article.

From outside the dental industry, many may not understand the partnership between dentists and hygienists. To most, dental hygienists are the people who clean our teeth and nothing more. However, in reality, a high-functioning dental office knows that a hygienist’s role is much more than that. Hygienists are providers, and when utilized to the fullest capacity, they are periodontal therapists—they use their education and skills to support the whole patient and the patient’s whole health.

In Heartland Dental supported offices, teams operate under founder Dr. Rick Workman’s mantra: do the right thing for the right reasons in the right working environment. And from that, the “doctor led, hygiene driven” culture was born. Dr. Workman believed that the “right thing” was a strong provider partnership between dentists (doctors) and hygienists and the right reason: better patient care and education. It was this mantra and Dr. Workman’s passion that drew Julie Thomas, RDH, to Heartland Dental over 30 years ago.

“I wanted to be more than the girl who cleaned teeth—I wanted to use my brain and my education,” Julie said in an interview with Dr. Workman featured on Today’s RDH. She joined Dr. Workman in 1987 just as he was getting Heartland Dental off the ground. Since then, Heartland Dental supported offices have known no other way of operating. New patients go through the hygiene department first—Heartland Dental supported hygienists gather data and educate the patients on potential issues the dentist might diagnose, partnering with dentists to deliver optimum patient care.

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When Dr. Workman pioneered this way of thinking in the 1980s, he knew there would be a risk.

“Any time you don’t follow conventional, historical ways of doing things, there’s a risk,” Dr. Workman said. “But we thought: we can do what others are doing and be mediocre, or typical, or we can chart a new path to what we believe will be the best for all involved.”

And as it turned out, this kind of provider partnership is better for all parties—the dentist, the hygienist, and most importantly, the patient. And that’s not just based on sentiment—there’s real data involved in measuring how this operational method benefits the offices. Heartland Dental tracks patient retention, showing that 78-79% of all hygiene visits are return visits. That kind of retention is significant in the dental industry, emphasizing the importance of running a hygiene practice within a dental practice. Robust therapeutic and preventative hygiene practices within the dental practice offer the best oral care and contribute to the best overall healthcare.

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Whether or not patients fully understand what goes on behind the scenes in the dentist-hygienist partnership, what they can perceive is the care and treatment they receive and the alignment between what they hear from their hygienist and what they hear from their dentist.

“I remember giving a thumbs-up to Dr. Workman down the hall when patients understood and accepted the care that they needed,” Julie said. “I loved that mutual respect and integrity in our partnership.”

But Julie also noted, it takes time to foster that kind of relationship, and both parties have to be willing to work at it to get it right. In Heartland Dental supported offices, these partnerships will continue to grow and remain the norm.

“We will continue to see hygienists as critical providers,” said Dr. Workman. “That will never change.”

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How to Achieve a Strong Provider Partnership

As the providers in the office, it’s incredibly important for dentists and hygienists to work together towards shared goals—both for the success of their office and for their patients’ oral health. In Heartland Dental supported offices, dentists and hygienists can go to work every day with the knowledge that they are providing the highest-quality dental care together. But they don’t achieve a strong partnership overnight. As Julie mentioned, it takes time and effort to build this kind of relationship.

One Heartland Dental supported dentist-hygienist team—Farai Kambasha, DDS, and Lisa Biernat, RDH— created the kind of partnership that all providers should aspire to achieve. Learn how they built their partnership, and why they believe it’s crucial to their office’s success and for their patients’ oral health.

Building Blocks to a Strong Provider Partnership:

  • Clear communication and expectations—The most important part of the provider partnership is ensuring the dentist and hygienist are on the same page when it comes to patient care. And in order to create the kind of flow and synergy that will help a team deliver high-quality care, there must be clearly-defined goals and expectations and solid communication. Kambasha and Lisa have regular hygiene synergy meetings to ensure they’re communicating efficiently and effectively and on track to meet their goals. They meet at least once a week, but sometimes it becomes a daily meeting, or even multiple times a day, depending on their workload and need to communicate. As the two providers, anything one person does will affect the other’s schedule and vice versa. Staying connected and in communication ensures that the office continues to run smoothly.
  • Mutual respect—No partnership can succeed without respect and trust. When dentists and hygienists partner together, the hygienist can better understand the dentist’s expectations. This understanding can help the hygienist drive the dentist’s schedule and treatment plans, ultimately creating the synergy the office needs to succeed. When building the provider partnership, dentists and hygienists should share and understand each other’s working styles, stress triggers, and goals to build trust and respect.
  • Team acknowledgment and support—As the leader in the office, the dentist must help the team understand that the hygienist(s) is also a provider in the office, and thus their decisions and schedule must be respected just like the dentist’s. With the team on board, it’s much easier to build the schedule and provide patients with the care they need—the team understands it’s the dentist’s expectation that they help fill the hygienist’s schedule. And if the hygienist’s schedule is full, the dentist’s schedule will naturally grow as well.

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Why Strong Provider Partnerships are Crucial to Success

The office and the patients will benefit most from a strong provider partnership. For many practices that may not subscribe to the doctor led/hygiene driven model present in Heartland Dental supported offices, there’s likely untapped potential in their hygiene departments.

“Show me the level of synergy between a hygienist and a dentist in an office, and I’ll show you the potential for that office,” said Dr. Kambasha. “Any office that has a strong provider partnership has the potential to be highly profitable and highly successful.”

Building this kind of partnership can seem daunting, especially if you’re unsure of where to begin. That’s why we put together a checklist and worksheet for dentists and hygienists to work through together. Download the worksheet today to embark on your own journey towards office synergy and a strong provider partnership.

Free Dentist-Hygienist Partnership Checklist & Worksheet

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To learn more about careers supported by Heartland Dental and to explore opportunities in the hygiene program, visit jobs.heartland.com.