Oct. 7, 2010
Christine Hovliaras, RDH, explains how dental hygienists can enhance their value as employees during these tough times.

by Christine Hovliaras, RDH, BS, MBA, CDE

As a dental hygienist, has the economy affected your practice, current position, or the job you hold in another area of dental hygiene? If so, have any of these happened to you?

• Have your hours been cut by your employer due to patients not accepting treatment like they did in the past?

• Have you not received a raise because production in the practice hasn’t met the office goals?

• Are you frustrated with your employer for the office atmosphere that has developed due to the finances that are not coming in?

• Did you lose benefits or a bonus because of the tough economy?

• Are you having to do something extra to make ends meet, to help you and your family bring in adequate financial resources?

If any of these have happened to you, what did you do besides get upset, frustrated, disgusted, and maybe even cry? Did you consider a Plan B or C? How, during these tough times, can we work together to help each other make it through? Professional Savvy, my oral care consulting, professional marketing, and continuing education company, is here to provide some insight into what you may consider if you have been affected by these tough times. Professional Savvy can help you put a course of action into place to enhance you emotionally, and to help you to come up with options to succeed.

Option 1 — Work with your employer to track your daily production. No matter how long you have been with your employer, it’s important to talk to him or her about what is happening in the dental hygiene department. This will let your employer know that you really care about what’s going on in the practice. It’s important to talk as a team at your weekly meetings about how the economy is affecting the practice, and how everyone can work together to increase productivity.

Your daily production, recommendations, and treatment should be totaled and divided by the number of hours you work each day. Production should be tracked through the following: radiographs, prophylactic appointments, periodontal maintenance, quadrant and/or half mouth scaling and root planing, debridement, placement of local delivery agents, use of fluoride varnishes, placement of sealants, use of oral cancer screening devices, and caries risk assessment materials/tools.

Tracking production helps you determine where the oral care needs of your patients are and how the dental hygiene department plays an integral role in the productivity of the practice.

Option 2 — Identifying further dental treatment within the practice to enhance patient oral health. Besides what you do as a dental hygienist, what else are you contributing to the practice to enhance oral health? Technology and the unique tools we use in practice can help make our job easier. We can identify future dental treatment through the use of DIAGNOdent and radiographs, and we can identify treatment options for patients who may be missing molars, and then discuss restorative options the patients can afford.

The role of the dentist, hygienist, treatment coordinator, and front reception team members are to help patients feel totally comfortable moving ahead with case acceptance based on what they need to enhance their oral health and restorative/cosmetic health. This may involve cosmetic procedures, prosthodontic options, and temporomandibular joint issues that a patient may be experiencing due to stress or personal issues.

Option 3 — Your pay: Commission vs. salary. When times are difficult, are there any other solutions you would consider to help you increase your financial resources to make your situation better? If you receive a salary, you might consider discussing with your dentist working on a commission basis. You might recommend compensation based on a percentage of your production, and trying this for a six-month period or so.

Incorporating more periodontal treatment into dental hygiene production will help to boost income from quadrant scaling, periodontal maintenance, debridement, use of local delivery agents, fluoride varnishes, and more. You need to consider how this will affect your income potential when comparing salary to commission base pay.

Option 4 — Evaluating your career satisfaction and goals for now and in the future. It is crucial to determine your level of skills and education, career satisfaction, what other avenues you might pursue to gain more learning or certification, and the steps you can take to secure even more happiness in your position.

Professional Savvy has developed the Dental Hygienist Career Assessment Test for both student dental professionals and the dental team to help you determine these key elements. This test can be purchased and downloaded at under Career Tools for Dental Professionals and Student Dental Professionals. This is the first step to determining how you feel about your career and the steps you can take to enhance your career.

The second step is to take the Professional Savvy Annual Career Development Plan. This will help you determine your vision, whether your current position is your ideal position, your current skills and experience, goals and objectives for your position in the next year, future skills, and network strategies for ultimate success.
Professional Savvy has also developed the three-year, six-year, and nine-year Career Development Update to assist dental hygienists in being successful in dental hygiene and expanding into different roles throughout their careers.

Option 5 — Evaluating and making changes. As we all know, working and life have many challenges, and part of those challenges is determining if we are motivated to keep working in our current position. Some hygienists stay in the same position for many years because they are satisfied, encouraged to help their patients, and enjoy what they do.

In the 26 years I’ve practiced dental hygiene, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy many roles in dental hygiene that helped me grow as a professional, learn new things that assisted me in helping my patients and colleagues, as well as realize why I stayed in this profession for so many years. Hygienists should research other career opportunities, update their cover letter and resume, and determine where they see themselves in one to three years, four to six years, and seven to nine years in dental hygiene.

I changed positions in order to learn new avenues within the dental and business world, and these avenues helped me start my own business in November 2002. I am celebrating eight successful years in my own oral care consulting, professional marketing, and continuing education company, Professional Savvy, LLC. I have expanded my company for growth and business success, and I work with companies, associations, dental and specialty practices, business owners, students, and dental professionals to help them become more successful in dentistry and dental hygiene and to reach career success.

Consider making these changes in order to better protect yourself and your family during these challenging economic times. If you need to change into a different role, don’t be afraid — just do it. I did it and I continue to work part-time in dental hygiene. This has led me to more opportunities, great career satisfaction, and financial independence in order to move forward in dental hygiene in the future.

Christine Hovliaras, RDH, BS, MBA, CDE, is president of Professional Savvy, LLC, an oral care consulting, professional marketing, and continuing education company in New Jersey. Christine is a dental hygiene professional with more than 26 years of clinical, education, and research in both academia and industry. She consults with dental/specialty practices in communication, business marketing, and advertising initiatives, as well as companies, professional associations, business owners, students, and dental professionals in career success. She lectures in the areas of teamwork, leadership, marketing, and communication in dentistry. Visit her Web site at and look for her National Symposium for Dental Professionals and Dental Teams at the Epic Hotel in Miami, FL, January 5-8, 2011. Come to Miami for three days of AGD PACE approved continuing education for the entire dental team.