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Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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Hygienists: Donít Phone It In
By Carol Tekavec RDH

After many years of working in the dental field, it is natural that we may begin to feel we have seen it all, treated it all, and explained it all. About a hundred times. On some days it is hard to summon much enthusiasm for discussing yet again, the dental problems resulting from oral bacteria. We get discouraged when we see a patient who has been with the office for decades continuing to insist that he flosses every day when we are viewing red, inflamed tissues and thick, gooey gingival plaque. It is disheartening when we ask a patient if she would like a sample floss and her response is that she still has the floss we gave her six months ago – especially when the sample floss containers we distribute have only six feet of floss! And really; how many times can we discuss brushing techniques?

Two weeks ago I had a patient tell me he did not want radiographs because he had read online that x-rays cause decay. While explaining (again) the nature and usefulness of radiographs in dentistry, I longed to simply say; “How can you possibly believe such a thing? If you don’t want the dentist to check your teeth completely, why did you come in for this appointment?!”

Of course I did not say this. But the urge was there nevertheless.

How can we combat this type of impulse; to be short, dismissive, or otherwise unprofessional with our patients? How can we keep our work “fresh” and our delivery of explanations enthusiastic? As long-time hygienists, how can we guard against giving in to the temptation to “phone it in” instead of giving our work our whole-hearted effort?

Here are four ideas:

1. When tackling patient discussions and explanations, pretend that you are playing a role in a play. Actors on the stage are required to recreate their roles nightly and sometimes for additional matinees. Each performance must be as enthusiastic as the first time the actor ever portrayed the part. After all, there are new people in the audience every night. If we adopt the role of a person who is excited to present dental explanations, we can sometimes convince ourselves we are more enthusiastic. If we present information in an animated way, patients listen better and may actually decide to make some changes in their oral health.

2. When treating patients, look at them as you do your personal friends or relatives, instead of just one more person to get through until the end of the day. We want the best for our family members and should want the best for all of our patients. If we focus on the fact that each of our patients is important to their own families, and that they are relying on us to always do our best, it can help us remember the importance of our work and what we do. This means always doing our best, even when our patients don’t act appreciative and even when we know that no one will ever actually realize the efforts we have made on their behalf this day. Doing the right thing means doing it all the time, even, and especially when, no one else is watching.

3. Keep abreast of new developments in the dental field. There are new ways of addressing many problems now available to us. If we don’t try to learn new methods and adapt to effective changes, we stagnate in our profession. A stagnate hygienist is not one who is happy and enthusiastic in his or her profession. A stagnate hygienist is also not likely to be providing the best treatment to patients. Attend dental courses, participate in webinars, read dental journals, sign up with chat/information websites, look into different instruments, and investigate new dental products. Keeping up with what is new and effective can help keep us fresh, while at the same time possibly providing better care for our patients.

4. Consciously take pride in your profession. We can be very proud of what we do. The work that we do helps people and it is easy for us to see its’ benefits. Someone who comes in with plaque and calculus leaves with a clean and sparkling mouth. A person who never understood the relationship between oral health and overall health leaves with knowledge of the mouth/body connections and how important their periodontal condition is to their general well-being. When we help identify a restorative need and the patient receives a beautiful crown, that person looks and feels much better. If a person is unhappy with their smile and we can help improve it, they can face the world with better self-confidence and higher self-esteem.

The hygiene profession is important to the world of healthcare. It is essential to being productive that we resist the temptation to sometimes “phone it in”. We owe it to ourselves and to others to remain as engaged as possible.

Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department?  Email hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

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