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12.5.08 Issue #352 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Angie Stone RDH, BS
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Hygienists, Are You Stagnant or Stellar?

Which one of these words best describes you as a dental hygienist? “Stagnant” is defined as follows: characterized by lack of development, advancement or progressive movement; inactive, sluggish or dull. In contrast, “stellar” refers to a preeminent performer. Although the hope is that the chosen word is stellar, the truth may be that the word you chose is stagnant. How then can a hygienist go from stagnant to stellar?

There are many reasons a hygienist may be stagnant. One of the biggest reasons is complacency in the role as an important health care provider, which can manifest in reluctantly accepting the role of the “cleaning person.” Why the complacency? Maybe a loss of interest in the profession. Maybe a hygienist hasn’t gotten the needed nourishment or support from the employer. Maybe he hasn’t taken responsibility for the development of his professional life. Whatever the reason, the cycle needs to be broken if there is going to be success in the hygiene department. And in order to break the cycle, the dentist and hygienist need to work together.

The “cleaning person” mentality needs to be debunked and there needs to be a renewed commitment to patients and profession. The profession of dental hygiene is about more than providing prophys. Dental hygienists have the opportunity to change the lives of patients by detecting periodontal disease. Detection of this disease can improve patients’ oral and systemic health, as well as their quality of life. In addition, by doing periodic blood pressure screenings, hygienists can detect high blood pressure (which can also potentially save a life). Hygienists can assist patients in stopping the use of tobacco through the “Ask, Advise, Refer” Program. This too can be life changing. However, if the hygienist is focused only on scaling and polishing, the opportunity to detect these other issues is lost. Hygienists must be proactive in helping patients improve both oral and systemic health.

This is not easy to achieve. It takes time, effort and constant thought to be a stellar hygienist. It is much easier to be stagnant. In order for the hygienist to be in the stellar category, there needs to be ongoing continuing education in order to keep up with the rapidly changing world of dental hygiene. Effort needs to be put into incorporating new hygiene concepts into the dental practice and introduce them to the dentist and the team. There are many other measures that can be taken, but beginning with these two items can help start the process of going from stagnant to stellar.

The dentist can contribute to this transformation as well. Even though dentists may have concerns about the performance of their hygienists, there are typically no job descriptions in place for them. The assumption is that the hygienist will clean teeth. When this is the only thing a hygienist does, the dentist may become disenchanted with her performance. Having a job description that details what exactly is expected of the hygienist, including how much continuing education she should take annually, what her production is expected to be and what she is expected to bring to the hygiene department/team, will derail the complacency of the “cleaning person” mentality. In order to ensure employment, she will be required to comply with the job description, thereby keeping up to date with current hygiene strategies. If the hygienist is not performing to the job description, this can then be discussed and hopefully turned around. Without a job description, no one has any idea what (other than cleaning teeth) is actually expected of the hygienist.

A dentist can also improve the performance of a hygienist by supporting and directing his efforts. If the hygienist brings something new to the table, the dentist can encourage this behavior by listening to ideas and considering what is said. (This does not mean that all ideas need to be accepted.) It is important that the dentist provide an environment conducive to development and advancement of the hygienist’s career. This is probably the most important thing the dentist can do to ensure getting the performance of a stellar hygienist instead of a stagnant one.

Need help with implementing new systems in your hygiene department to ensure stellar performance? Email

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