This is one of the frequent awkward situations for new hygienists. It’s easy to get discouraged in social situations, especially when something is unfamiliar. However, instead of allowing this patient interaction to shrink your confidence, turn this interaction into a pathway toward social confidence.
You’ve been a dental hygiene student for years, and you’re finally working at your first dental office. You’ve completed your dental hygiene program, you’ve passed your board exams, and now you’re a licensed dental hygienist. You are ready. Truly telling yourself you’re ready is the first step.
Social confidence is something you can start practicing right now. So, stop referring to yourself as "the new girl" or "the new guy," and use these tips to establish yourself as the upbeat, fearless hygienist you are!
Social Confidence Tips
Plan everything ahead. Small things like having all the XCP-radiograph rings ready for your FMX before you even bring the patient back into your room can be the start of a smooth, stress-free appointment. It’s never a good look if your nervousness is showing as you struggle to find the correct way to stick the XCP tab to the sensor—all while trying to focus on small talk.
Plan ahead and collect everything you’ll need for each appointment beforehand. Even writing notes on which patients are due for BWX and which are due for perio charting can help as well.
Listen to your colleagues. If the other hygienists you are working with are good role models, ask for their advice and listen to how they phrase certain things to patients. Taking notes on how smoothly their conversations flow when they use certain words and expressions is a great way to learn by example. I’ve absorbed countless tips by simply overhearing positive conversations in other operatories.
Communicate to the patient. Communication is key, and it’s the best when you’ve already heard it used successfully in another operatory. Even though you are on a tight schedule, stressed, and trying to focus on your scaling technique, just remember to communicate to the patient that you’re there to help them.
Patients are comforted by friendly communication. Silence is not the answer when you’re nervous. Calmly explaining each procedure to the patient is important for both gaining patient trust and boosting your confidence level. Good communication often validates your level of experience to the patient.
Still not feeling 100%?
Here's another great tip: If you want to really break through your discomfort, take an improv class! Improv classes are not only for aspiring comedians. In fact, most beginner improv courses are taken by the general public for personal reasons. Improv classes teach you how to turn your stress and butterflies into fuel for a performance, which is useful for public speaking, social anxiety, and of course in your dental work environment.
If you can treat each appointment as a performance—by focusing on the process and not the outcome—you will be golden. When you visualize yourself as awesome, you’ll be more capable of presenting yourself as confident.
Now you're ready!
So, when the patient asks you on your first day, "How long have you been working here?" sometimes one of the best, honest, and most confident answers is, "I’ve only been at this office for a short while, but I’ve been in the dental field for x years."
Maybe you were a dental assistant before dental hygiene school. Tell them how many years! Or, maybe your only dental experience is from dental hygiene school clinic. Tell them how many years. It’s not like you’ve never seen a patient before.
Just remember that you have all the experience you need to succeed. You’ve passed all your exams and filled all your quotas. Now it’s time to show off your skills by having confidence throughout each appointment.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the RDH Graduate e-newsletter. Subcribe here!
Whitney DiFoggio, RDH, BS, also known as Teeth Talk Girl on social media, is an Illinois Dental Hygiene Association member and South Suburban/Chicago component member. Whitney is a clinical hygienist and video creator on YouTube, as well as an actress, writer, and producer in the Chicago area. Whitney’s goal is to contribute to community dental health on a larger scale, and her journey has started on YouTube. You can find Whitney’s dental videos on YouTube.com/TeethTalk and email her at [email protected].