4 common mistakes dental hygienists make

Learn more about bad prophies and three other buzzkills to kick to the curb in this article by Amber Auger, MPH, RDH.

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In my experience as clinical and business consultant, I often see similar issues in dental offices around the country. These issues often negatively impact patient care as well as our own mental health. In this article, I will review four of the most common mistakes that a dental hygienist makes.

Providing a "super prophy"

A "super prophy" is a term that I learned while consulting with Jameson Management. A super prophy refers to a clinician scaling for more than 20 minutes of time during a six-month prophylaxis appointment. If the patient requires more than 20 minutes of scaling, he or she should not be coded as a prophylaxis. The patient is either a gingivitis or periodontal disease treatment. After clinicians have determined medical history, gingival pocket depths, bleeding, furcation involvement, and recession, and obtained up-to-date radiographs, they can properly classify patients. These patients are then to be seen utilizing the D4346 code for gingivitis or D4342 for limited or quadrant scales.

Staying at a toxic job for too long

Working in an environment that is not healthy can affect all aspects of your life. Oftentimes we take the "suck it up" method because the office offers a short commute, we love our patients, or we even fear that it could be worse in other offices. If you are dreading going to the office every day, do yourself a favor and look for options.

At one point in my clinical career, I worked for an office where the office manager would stand outside of my operatory and critique all the education I provided to my patients. She would suggest that I make the patient smell the floss, remind me that all patients need whitening (even the 92-year-old grandma with 5 teeth), and many other things that were a conflict of my own clinical standards. Leaving the office was the best thing I ever did. In fact, I temped until I found an office that met my needs. As dental hygienists, we must learn that we can select the office that we are committing a portion of careers to.

Not asking for a working interview

Before accepting any job, whether in academia, clinical, or consulting, it is essential to ask the right questions. I find that most people become unhappy in their jobs due to mismanaged expectations. Ask about the office culture, inquire about the workflow, define what policies are present, and find out how other team members are kept accountable. Request a working interview to determine if you are a good fit in the office. Ask yourself:

  • Are the patients properly managed or highly underdiagnosed?
  • Does the team offer support to one another throughout the work day?
  • Is there a negative tone to the office, or are they always looking to help one another provide patient-centric care?

In my experience, I know almost immediately if the office is an environment where I can thrive in.

Avoiding discussions

The best relationships are built on trust and respect. Our work relationships are no different. In order to have a healthy work environment, avoiding speaking poorly about someone behind their back is essential. Instead, approaching the team member with your concerns in a one-on-one format prevents a situation from escalating. Additionally, meeting with the team on a regular basis to discuss the latest clinical technologies and how they can improve current protocols will enhance how each clinician educates.

We have the ability to pass on any opportunity that we feel is not the best fit. If the position does not excite you, challenge you, and grow you, it is not a long-term match. Choose to select the best option for your hard-earned career. You deserve it!

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Amber Auger, MPH, RDH, is a hygienist with experience in multiple clinical settings, including facilities abroad. Amber obtained a master's degree in public health from the University of New England and a bachelor's in dental hygiene from the University of New Haven. Auger is a key opinion leader for several dental companies, speaker, and published author, and can be contacted through her website at amberaugerrdh.com.

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