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QUESTION: I’ve been a dental hygienist for 27 years. I just started a new job after leaving a job I had for 12 years when the doctor retired. The patients at the new practice are really nice. No one complains to me, but four patients have told the office manager that I’m rough. I do explain their oral health thoroughly to every patient, whether they have gingivitis or gum disease. I explain why something hurts them here or there. I’m beside myself that they’ve complained. This has never happened to me before. I do not know the previous hygienist, but I’m seeing calculus on patients’ x-rays. I’m thinking the last hygienist didn’t get deep enough. But who am I to judge? I’m just frustrated being compared to her. Can these patients expect painless cleanings?
ANSWER FROM DIANNE WATTERSON, MBA, RDH, Watterson Speaking and Consulting LLC:
With 27 years’ experience, you are certainly not a novice. You sound like a very thorough hygienist. I also expect that you’re more aggressive in your clinical style than the previous hygienist. If that means that you’re more efficient and thorough in removing calculus, that’s good for your patients. But I guarantee you that the patients won’t see it that way. If they’re not used to their preventive appointments being painful, they will view you as rough and they won’t like you. You’ll develop a reputation as a “blood and guts” hygienist. I’ve even known dentists to fire hygienists after they received numerous complaints from patients about the hygienists’ care being painful.
Think about it. If a patient doesn’t have any gingivitis or perio, then a cleaning shouldn’t hurt, should it? No, it should not. So if patients with no disease are complaining, then maybe you are being rough.
In my first job as a hygienist, numerous patients told me, “You didn’t hurt me like the last hygienist.” Some even thanked me. Evidently, the person before me was very rough. It was the reverse of your problem.
I recommend that you start using more topical when you see something deep that needs to be removed. Explain to patients that you’re going to use some numbing gel to take the edge off. They will appreciate it.
Also, make sure you’re not sticking the sharp tip of the sickle scaler into the papilla on the opposite side, which is very easy to do. View the patients’ comments as a means to help you improve your technique. After all, none of us are perfect. And if I’m in your chair as a patient, I would appreciate it if you didn’t hurt me!
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Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly