Happiness through hygiene

Oct. 1, 2003
One of the most valuable assets in any dental practice is the dental team. The dental team can have a tremendous impact on the health, well-being, and certainly the growth of every dental practice.

Louis Malcmacher, DDS

One of the most valuable assets in any dental practice is the dental team. The dental team can have a tremendous impact on the health, well-being, and certainly the growth of every dental practice. They often are the ones who have relationships with patients and easily transfer the relationship to the dentist. While every team member is important, I want to focus on the dental hygienist in this article.

The dental hygienist is in a particularly unique position as part of the dental team. No one in your office spends as much time with each dental patient as the dental hygienist. The 40 to 60 minutes (or longer) the hygienist has with the patient is really quality time. That is the time the hygienist spends to get to know every nook and cranny of every single tooth the patient has. Indeed, no one knows the patient or the patient's mouth like your dental hygienist. Patients also like to talk about their lives and have been known to sometimes tell their trusted hygienist more than they want to know.

The dental hygienist also is a vital member of the clinical team. While hygienists cannot technically diagnose, they can, as Dr. Roger Levin puts it, "intensely observe" the conditions of the patient's mouth. They are in the important position to be able to intensely suggest possible areas of treatment before the dentist comes in and gives a definitive diagnosis. For this reason, I have a separate morning huddle with my hygienist just to discuss her patients so we can treatment-plan them together and discuss any needs or concerns they may have.

What kind of smile does your dental hygienist have? Does your hygienist have fresh breath? Why are these things even important? If you were a patient in a dental office and were thinking about having some aesthetic work done, one of the first things you will notice is the hygienist's smile. The investment that you make in your hygienist's smile will pay big dividends in motivating patients to accept aesthetic treatment. If the patient has an interest in bleaching and asks the hygienist about it, if she can show the patient her nice, white, bleached teeth, there isn't a whole lot more you need to do for that patient to accept treatment.

Ongoing communication throughout the day is essential with the hygienist. Many times during the day, I will have looked at the patient's X-rays in the developer room and will write notes to my hygienist concerning what to look for in the patient's mouth and what the treatment plan may eventually be. The hygienist can then discuss some of the options with the patient before I even come into the room to do the hygiene check. By the time I am done talking about whatever treatment the patient may need, the patient will have heard treatment recommendations twice — once from the hygienist and then from me — and is much more likely to go ahead with treatment.

I know that lighted communication systems are very popular in some dental offices. These are systems where a button is pressed to summon the dentist to the hygiene room when the hygienist is finished. We haven't used one of these for years. I would much rather want the hygienist to come get me so that she can talk to me about the conditions in the patient's mouth. In addition, she can tell me what treatment options the patient has either asked for or she has spoken to the patient about. By doing this, I enter the hygiene room with a much better idea of where this patient is coming from, his or her interests concerning treatment, and what we can accomplish together. Again, effective, two-way communication is the big key here. And it is a constant throughout the entire day.

The hygienist's job goes far beyond just a prophylaxis. Dental hygienists are seasoned clinical professionals and counselors. They are educators, they inspire and motivate patients, they are responsible for a big portion of the patient's oral and systemic health, and are an extremely important key to a successful dental team.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an international lecturer and author known for hiscomprehensive and entertaining style.An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For close to two decades, Dr. Malcmacher has inspired his audiences to truly enjoy practicing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice-management skills. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988.For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810 or via email at [email protected].

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