Developing World-Class Hygienists

Sept. 30, 2014
World class hygienists are the way they are because they are given the opportunity to grow.

By Wendy Briggs, RDH

World class hygienists are the way they are because they are given the opportunity to grow. Too often, once hygienists are hired, they are promptly shown their room, their instruments, the lab, and then sent off to clean teeth. Many practices are sadly lacking in systems for training and developing team members.

This is stunning! Especially when we consider how critical a patient's experience in hygiene is. Many patients leave their dentists due to negative experiences in the hygiene chair. We have found that hygiene providers will thrive when given a vision and systems to embrace.

When adding a new hygienist to the practice there needs to be a focus on comfort, completeness, and speed - all three of these are important to patients. If you have one and not the other two, you're not going to be very effective. Comfort is the most important. It doesn't matter if you are the best dentist in the world. If you have a hygiene provider who's hurting your patients, you're not going to have many patients left. They won't necessarily tell you; they'll just silently leave. Speed also matters to patients, now more than ever. They want something done as quickly as it can be done well.

To develop world class hygienists, practices need to know how to maximize the "three roles of hygiene." This is where completeness comes in.

The first role is that of preventive therapist. Dental hygienists have a significant responsibility to focus on disease prevention. The truth is, many patients today are considered high risk by the ADA. Those who consistently struggle with chronic decay have a very high frustration level.

Too often we assume that if insurance doesn't cover a preventive procedure, a patient will not want it. When we present the opportunity the right way, patients often jump at the chance to prevent future problems. Preventive services such as fluoride, sealants, desensitizing agents, radiographs, and many others can become commonplace procedures that happen daily in hygiene. If we are truly maximizing preventive therapy in hygiene, something nice happens to productivity - it goes up drastically.

The second role is that of periodontal therapist. Many consultants and hygiene speakers focus a lot on periodontal therapy, as it is a critical component in the life of a dental hygienist. However, it is not uncommon to see a practice that is still treating periodontal infection with the same strategies and technology they were using five-plus years ago. This is truly alarming! Many things have changed. We have better tools, better science about what causes periodontal infection, and knowledge regarding how to drastically reduce it. We know so much more about the oral-systemic link, and the serious health risks that come with inflammation in the body.

We have laser techniques, additional resources such as Arestin, and other adjunctive options for patients. If we are truly maximizing our role as periodontal therapists, we are seeing periodontal disease, talking about it, and treating it. We have extremely high acceptance rates for these advanced services; supervised neglect is not an option. We discuss periodontal disease with existing and new patients, and we are treating it with every available weapon in our arsenal.

The third role is that of patient treatment advocate. Hygienists often underestimate what a critical role we have in helping our patients make choices about the dentistry they need. How many times have they turned to the hygienist or another clinical team member and asked, "Do I really need to have this done?" or "How long can I wait before I get this taken care of?" The reality is, patients want the team's opinion and recommendations when it comes to their treatment choices.

We also teach providers how to embrace and incorporate technology. Having time and skills to use the intraoral camera on every patient is vital. Cavity detection lasers can help us facilitate treatment acceptance. Verbal skills, knowing which questions to ask, and helping patients decide which option is best to accomplish their goals are important. Presenting treatment and having patients choose better dentistry can be incredibly rewarding.

In today's dental practices, high levels of success in hygiene are not out of reach. Although it may seem like achieving high productivity consistently from your hygiene department is a fantasy, we have found that maximizing the "three roles" can help you achieve higher levels of patient care and productivity.

To learn more about how to inspire high levels of performance in hygiene, request a free consultation with the Team Training Institute at

Wendy Briggs, RDH, is a recognized speaker and trainer in the dental industry. As president of The Team Training Institute, she travels nationally to provide valuable coaching and helpful advice to dental professionals. Her lectures are content rich, designed to inspire immediate improvement in the dental practice. For more information, contact her at [email protected].

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