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You are ready! Advice and answers for the new dental hygienist

May 21, 2018
Mandy Macachor, RDH, provides suggestions for the recent graduate who is beginning a career as a dental hygienist.

"At the end of the appointment, you want the
respect of patients viewing you as
a health-care provider."

By Mandy Macachor, RDH

Congratulations! You made it! Sleepless nights, cram sessions, and Craigslist ads to find patients. You’ve done it all and it’s finally worth it! You tackled all of the obstacles and have that dignified, well-deserved moment to finally add RDH behind your name. You will play a bit of a waiting game to obtain your license, but once it arrives you are ready for the real world of dental hygiene, right?

The basics. Finding the job that’s right for you!

I would highly recommend starting your search prior to graduation. Begin researching what types of offices you can see yourself loving as a place to work! Start looking into offices in your area (regardless of whether they are hiring) and accumulate a list that are must-haves for your future dental office home.

I work at two general practices. I thoughtfully and intentionally chose to work at two unalike offices. This decision allowed me to experience two dental practices with different patient demographics, different team members, and, ultimately, different office philosophies. I am one year into working clinically, and I firmly believe this decision has made me an improved clinician.

Next, remember that timing is everything!

Moving from practice at school to an actual practice means making adjustments that can be overwhelming at first. In most offices, you’ll be given one hour to accomplish what your school gave you four hours to complete.

My first few weeks I ran right up to the minute, with no time to breathe in between patients. I had overcompensated in building rapport with my patients through socialization. I quickly realized you can have a great relationship with your patient without knowing their life story.

It is important to gain trust and build a rapport with your patients. However, you ultimately want to create a relationship that is personal and, more importantly, educational. At the end of the appointment, you want the respect of them viewing you as a health-care provider.

As you become more proficient in your skills, find a routine that works well for you. You won’t have an instructor looking over your shoulder (Thank goodness!), but you have the responsibility to provide the most effective, efficient, and quality care possible.

For some, if you have an hour for your appointments, the 20-20- 20 rule may be perfect. The 20-20-20 rule involves:

  • 20 minutes to perform the initial assessment (including medical health history updates, necessary x-rays, and the periodontal assessment)
  • 20 minutes for scaling (I promise with you true prophylaxis patients this amount of time will suffice!)
  • 20 minutes for polishing, flossing, completing patient education conversations and the doctor’s exam.

This timing may vary as you are providing individualized care to each patient. But I have found this rule to seemingly assist with time management.

Finally, find a mentor

As things begin to fall into place as a new graduate RDH, you’ll spend most days proud of the care you are able to provide your patients. But you may have a few moments where you ask yourself, “Did I do that right?”

These moments, among other situations, are when having a mentor can be a huge asset. Ideally, this person will be in the dental industry. So they may have the capacity to provide emotional support as well as useful clinical advice. You may find yourself fortunate enough to have several mentors such as an experienced coworker, an instructor from school, or even a new hygienist such as me. If you align yourself with at least one mentor to help guide you into this transitional part of your career, you’ll be less confused, and a lot more at ease through the challenges.

Now understand: You are ready

You’ve been victorious in succeeding and graduating from dental hygiene school. You mastered your written and clinical boards—you are ready! The work you put in has prepared you for a lifelong career as a successful hygienist. Each patient is a new opportunity to make a difference.

Mandy Macachor, RDH, is a practicing clinician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with experience in cosmetic and general practices. Mandy is licensed to administer local anesthetic, nitrous oxide, and utilize laser technology. In addition to being the lead hygienist within her practice she is also their social media brand manager. She was the president of her alma mater Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association and is a current member of ADHA. She is currently pursuing her bachelor's degree in health communications at Arizona State University.