Photo 48107117 © Alexey Astakhov |
Dreamstime M 48107117 60131d5b184aa

Dental hygiene: a performance-based profession

Jan. 28, 2021
Clinical expertise is just as important as how the patient perceives their experience. That's where thinking of a dental hygiene appointment as a kind of "performance" can help your evidence-based care shine!

Do you ever feel like you’re on center stage when talking with a new patient? Or when you’re with any patient, for that matter? If you don’t, think about that analogy. All eyes are on you, watching what you do, how you do it, and what you say. As the dental professional, you’re putting yourself out in front to be observed, as if your patient is watching an actor on the stage. Whether or not you’ve considered it this way, we are in a performance-based profession, and we need to put on a good show.

Why? Our show must be good if we want the paying audience (our patients) to return time and time again. To do this, we must rehearse and prepare like all great actors. Playing the role of the dental hygienist takes commitment, thus creating a character that embodies and reflects the best perceived qualities of a medical professional

When patients come to a dental office, they already have an expectation about what they will experience. Today, it’s unusual for a patient to blindly walk into a practice, not knowing anything about it. Most people have done some research first, including visiting the website, reading reviews, or talking with people who are current patients. This is very similar to buying tickets to a show or movie. They have an idea of what to expect, and it is up to us to then live up to or exceed those expectations, making good on their price of entry. This is why our performance must shine.

For a glowing performance, we need to have everything just right. This includes having the right costume, script, stage, and props. All these essentials working together will demonstrate our knowledge of dentistry and showcase our talents as the hygienist. As we perform our duties, we want our patients to be wowed, having met their expectations and ultimately booking with us again. This is the sign of a great performance, and this is what we must do or be mindful of to get return business.

The costume

A costume is an outfit worn to create the appearance of a particular person. In our profession, that costume is most likely scrubs. Scrubs look best when crisp and bright. Scrubs indicate to others that we work in health care in an environment that demands precision and cleanliness. Wearing scrubs sends a strong message to patients that we are prepared to do our job. Face shields, eye protection, gloves, and N-95 or level 3 masks promote awareness and safety when it comes to biohazards. This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has led us into uncharted territory, demanding that we make changes in our approach to virus mitigation, and patients need to see that.

But it doesn’t stop there. To complete the costume, hair, makeup, and nails must be addressed. Hair should be clean and neatly pulled away from the face as if to say nothing will interfere with your field of vision or fall into the patient’s open mouth. Makeup should be simple and fresh, nails clean and short. For a hygienist, the goal is to appear…well…hygienic for this performance.

The script

The script or exchange of language between us and our patients should be rehearsed, in the sense that we have considered beforehand what we say and how we say it and are confident in how we communicate. As hygienists, we act as educators and evaluators; we are the professionals in this dialogue. Reviewing medical histories, current illnesses, dental disease, oral health needs, suggestions, and treatment plans are all part of that. What we say needs to be taken seriously for our patients’ welfare, and that won’t happen if we choose language unbecoming of our character. Unbecoming language can be many things: information delivered in casual and confusing slang, talk about personal problems, gossip, or poor word choices that do not promote a positive performance. Outside of our dental hygienist role, in reality, we may feel very comfortable speaking in slang, bad-mouthing others, or chatting about the nuances of our personal lives, but reality has little place in the performance space. Do not break character by reminding your patients that you aren’t the professional you claim to be.

The stage

Setting the stage for the show is critical. Patients expect the operatories to be sanitized, organized, and well maintained, and this is how they should be. Our stage must make sense to the audience. Please make sure all the details of the room exhibit good taste and promote cleanliness. If you have a HEPA filter air purifier in your room, it should be appropriately located and turned on so contaminated air flow is moving in the correct direction, away from us and the patient. Make sure the lights are working and the operatory is in good condition. Peeling paint, scuff marks on the wall, and broken furniture should be taken care of as soon as possible. People are vulnerable in the dental space and fear disease, out-of-date working conditions, and cross contamination. We do not want to feed into this concern by having a less-than-clean or sloppy room. As with the proper costume, the appearance of the patient’s surroundings powerfully influences their perception of their experience.

The props

Props are objects used in a performance to support the narrative. Our narrative revolves around the tools we have mastered in accordance with our schooling and experience. Some of the props we use include specialized chairs, air and water syringes, suction, and dental instruments. Knowing how to choose and handle each of these items will convince our audience of our expertise. Interactive props or adjunct services such as temperature checks, preprocedural rinses, or hand sanitizing are among some of the newer generalized office protocols as a result of COVID-19 and are essential in solidifying our roles. With the right props, patients’ experience with our performance can be painless, relaxing, and comfortable. This is a win and ultimately the catalyst that has them returning to experience the magic again.

The standing ovation

Orchestrating a great show and performance in the dental environment may still seem out of touch if you have never considered yourself a performer. So, for a moment, consider going to a production where the stage is dusty and unorganized, the lights are flickering, the performer is clumsy and lost, the costumes are unkempt, and the script makes no sense. Would you feel good about that? Well, your patients won’t either if that is what they are met with under your care. It’s important to make your presentation enjoyable, professional, and one that mirrors the expectations of a great dental appointment. Getting the right messages across to your audience will give you the opportunity to deliver a repeat performance. We want to win that Oscar; we want that standing ovation—we want patients to return.

TANYA GOLD, BS, BA, RDH, specializes in public relations, practice enhancement, and communication strategies. She is the founder and director of Gold’s Dental Charm School, which focuses on the training of social graces for the dental professional.

About the Author

Tanya Gold, BS, BA, RDH

TANYA GOLD, BS, BA, RDH, specializes in public relations, practice enhancement, and communication strategies. She is the founder and director of Gold’s Dental Charm School, which focuses on the training of social graces for the dental professional.