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Set high standards in your dental hygiene practice.

High standards in dental hygiene may be hard, but they’re necessary

June 25, 2024
Set high standards for yourself and your coworkers, and then meet them. Your patients and practice will thank you.

Who can forget our wonderful teachers who taught us everything we know about dental hygiene? Oh, those high standards we had to meet, that bar I thought I would never reach!

I’ve been out of dental hygiene school for almost 20 years, and I can still hear Ms. Henry as if she’s sitting on my shoulder saying, “Watch your fulcrum!” “Are you sitting up straight? Why? Because your neck and shoulders will hurt in about 10 years!”

When I graduated, I wondered if I would take anything from my learning experiences into practice. How many times did we hear from hygienists who preceeded us in the program? “School is nothing like the real world.” I liken this to my teenage son whose argument was, “Mom, when am I ever going to use algebra in life?” He works in an engineering firm … go figure. 

The lessons I learned in dental hygiene school prepared me to soar to new heights and meet the rules and regulations of those strict teachers with their high bars. How many times did I cry in dental hygiene school? A ton. However, what I learned in dental hygiene school set me up for total success. To this day, I still disclose my patients, do my intraoral and extraoral exams, and follow the system I learned in dental hygiene school.

Stressing standards in my business

When I started my private dental hygiene practice, it was imperative I make sure my standards weren’t just high, but over the top. I enlisted a lot of help from mentors, board advisors, and those whose practices have a similar business model. I reached out to dentists and those whose influence reached the masses.

I was open to constructive criticism, and I will tell you right now, I failed. I picked myself up again, and then I failed again. I think sometimes we’re afraid to admit mistakes or failure. However, isn’t that the catalyst for growth, maturity, perseverance, and success?

Keeping one’s standards high was drilled into us in dental hygiene school, but I also think it’s just part of who we are as dental hygienists. I don’t think we entered this field to say, “Nope, I’m just going to do the bare minimum.” There are some who might fall into this category, but many of them won’t end up staying in the profession; there’s too much riding on integrity.

Once out of dental hygiene school, I wanted to make sure I was keeping up with standards. I think it’s easy to conform to the ways of the practice where you work; however, I simply asked them if I could continue doing things the way I was taught in school. It never hurts to ask. There are no hard metrics, but what was established gave credence to structure, case acceptance, trust with patients, and lended itself to quality service.

I find that keeping standards high is a matter of accountability. There are days we’ll miss the mark, days where we don’t feel well, days when we experience compassion fatigue, and days that just don’t go well. What I do in these times is rely on how others are being successful. That often comes in the way of continuing education. It acts as a buffer. It’s nice to know how others do it.

Continuing education is that partnership we enter each time we take a course that asks, “Are you doing your best?” “Could you consider doing it differently and with a better result?” “Did you know about this?” “Have you considered this?” “Are you burned out?” Many great ideas have stemmed from continuing education, which keeps us on track and focused, and often changes our professional trajectory. I’m grateful for good CE courses.

Why we all need high standards

Maintaining high standards takes a village. I love my morning huddles and we keep that time sacred as it offers space for change, communication, and the shared thinking that we’re all striving for excellence. It’s in this space that we have difficult conversations and can speak to concerns and protocols. Self-regulated standards are great; however, when we work in tandem, we each add our voice to the narrative. This sets us up for success when striving for collaboration and a fantastic team.

Keeping high standards takes work, ingenuity, time, and the ability to hear another person’s story or thought process. It means that sometimes we will fail. It means we must change or be ready for change. It takes active participation to listen, be heard, understand values, grasp integrity, and produce tangible results that ultimately allow us to deliver great service.

Isn’t this why we went to dental hygiene school? We want to be great dental hygienists that affect change. As dental health-care providers, our standards bring about life-changing results. That’s one area—someone’s life—where I don’t ever want to drop the bar or lower my standards.

About the Author

Suzanne Hubbard, RDH

Suzanne Hubbard, RDH, is an independent direct access dental health care hygienist. She has been practicing in Greeley, Colorado for almost 20 years. She owns Hubbard Family Dental Hygiene and has a heart to help the underserved. She has served as a dental missionary in Guatemala for the past 10 years.