Job titles: Do hygienists need a new one, or can they already demonstrate what they do?

May 9, 2018
Michelle Barrios, RDH, reflects after a conversation about dental hygienists job title that it's already possible to show they do more than just clean.  

Explaining your knowledge in a way
the patient relates to takes time.
Patients often leave the appointment
feeling guilty. Wouldn’t it be better if the
patient left feeling informed?

By Michelle Barrios, RDH

Dental hygiene is at a crossroads. We are so much more than our title. Dentistry has made leaps and bounds in science, yet dental hygienists are still viewed as providing just a cleaning. We all make a difference in the future direction of our profession. The greats of dental hygiene from the past have done a fantastic job in equating dental hygienist to health.

Is our profession ready for an advanced title?

OK with just a cleaning

What if I told you that I’m OK with the perception that all dental hygienists do is clean teeth? Would that prompt you to shout out all the reasons why that statement is inaccurate? Through networking, I have noticed a theme: Dental hygienists want to be perceived as more than just teeth cleaners. As a profession, we hold the key to our shift. Before we shout that we want change, we must first be a participant.

Oral Wellness Provider

Would changing our title help change the perspective? In a recent Mastermind discussion among hygienists in the Dental Codeologist Member Community, this exact topic was discussed. Most members agreed it is time for a title change but the suggestions for the title varied.

I personally like the title of oral wellness provider. When I think of my daily schedule, the bulk of my patients have some form of periodontal disease—either active or previously treated. It’s unfortunate that most have periodontal involvement, which means the preventive boat has already left the dock. Of course, we are prevention specialists too, but ultimately we are partnering in wellness.

What do Patients Think?

Put yourself in the patient’s position. Can they see the changes? Do they know proper dental care will decrease heart disease and enhance their quality of life? To the patient, we all use the same tools and perform similar protocols.

We must educate them that we know more and are providing more. How we do this will differ. We all have different ways that we use to communicate. Your explanation must be authentic to you. The big picture is the vision we are building.

The words we use make a difference. Telling patients that they are due for x-rays takes away the opportunity to discuss why. Does your patient know what dental professionals are looking for on the x-rays? We need to be clear and concise. I am not saying to use the technical terms but surely x-rays are more than finding a hole to fix. We should not take x-rays simply because the patient is due.

Explaining your knowledge in a way the patient relates to takes time. Patients often leave the appointment feeling guilty. Wouldn’t it be better if the patient left feeling informed?

Spend the time explaining the oral systemic link to your patient. Provide the patient with the reason why the spot always bleeds. Explain how their missing teeth or mal-alignment causes a domino effect in the mouth, and how it is rapidly affecting their health. We can help them make the connection that their mouth is an entryway to their body, and their periodontal infection is causing an inflammatory response in other areas of the body.

As hygienists, we are not benefitting the patient by withholding information or deciding what information the patient can handle. Our purpose is simply to help the patient understand the benefits and the consequences of their oral health choices.

Small changes can lead to big changes

I know you may say, “I wish I had the time to educate the patients!” Start by trying. Set a goal in your current situation or set a goal to change your current situation. Whatever you do, set your goals high. Even if you make it halfway, you have made a change. Consider that if the day before you educated one out of eight patients, and today you educated three out of eight you have made a change.

The beauty of all this is that we don’t need the title change to start being our best selves.I have evolved as a hygienist. My guess is you have too. Many hygienists state they are burned out; banding together for a cause will ignite lost passion. Start with small changes in your day to day routine or go big and join groups like, the Dental Codeologist Member Community and rally with others for change.

However, just start! Only time will tell if we see a title change. Change only happens when you act. It is that simple. Your actions at this cross-road will create a course that will significantly affect your individual future and that of our profession of dental hygiene.

Michelle Barrios, RDH currently balances a career in clinical and non-clinical settings. Her passion is to be a lifelong learner and to share her love of learning with her two daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected]