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Stronger as a team: Closing the gap between dentists and hygienists

July 7, 2020
Now more than ever, it’s vital that dentists and dental hygienists team up to provide safe, reliable care. Shannon Richkowski, RDH, stresses the importance of teamwork between these two essential professions.

“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal which is worthwhile.” Vince Lombardi1

As of 2019, there were roughly 200,000 practicing dentists, 220,000 practicing dental hygienists, and there will always be a never-ending supply of patients.2,3 No matter how you analyze the stats, to succeed in the game of dentistry we all need to be on the same team. History has shown that we all come out on top when dentists and hygienists work together in assessment, diagnosis, and enrollment. Patients begin to place more value on their dental health, and we witness an increase in treatment acceptance. When dentists and dental hygienists view each other as valued partners, we can expect to see increased patient retention, increased profits, and a team culture that attracts like-minded team players. Today, dentistry has a formidable new opponent on the playing field, COVID-19, and the rules of the game are changing. Our strategy must adapt in order to defend the championship title; it must be a combination of leadership, innovation, and collaboration.

Leadership is “the ability to influence positive change through others in service of shared goals,” according to Executive Fortune Management Coach Dennis Marvel. Leadership during locker room pep talks, warm-ups, time-outs, and during play matters now more than ever. Players who trash talk, focus on the negative, lay blame, or create scarcity will not put points on the board and will most likely be sitting on the sidelines. During a time of fear and uncertainty, it’s very important that both dentists and dental hygienists hone their leadership skills to create a safe place to communicate, establish shared vulnerability, and take a stand for purpose and vision. When leaders commit to practice and hold each other accountable, our goals in dentistry will be achieved.

Innovation is a promising play, given our current circumstances. During the ‘80s, dentistry took on another opponent known as HIV. HIV forced us to reevaluate the way we did business. Through innovative thinking, dentists and hygienists together became champions using a new standard called “universal precautions.” Faced with this new opponent, we will once again rely on innovative thinking to be our winning play. A few short months ago, dentists and hygienists started revisiting how pre-rinse could become a strategic play. In a very short period of time, pre-rinse has become one of the most effective plays we have to help reduce aerosols. Through innovation, new face shields and evacuation devices are being implemented to enhance safety. We will need to fine-tune new processes such as pre-appointment triage, temperature checks, and PPEs. We are learning some new plays in the dentistry game; as long as we work together, we will prevail.

Collaboration between dentists and dental hygienists will be crucial for successfully executing plays that not only protect cashflow reserves but increase collections and future revenue during the shutdown rebound. Dentists and dental hygienists may not be in partnership on paper, but we certainly are teammates when it comes to winning on the playing field. Working together to preserve the sustainability of the practice will be an integral move. Collaboration on how to schedule to goal in both the restorative ops and the dental hygiene ops will require strategic thinking. We have always coached scheduling to goal, but during COVID recovery it is more important than ever. Rebounding from the shutdown will require a business hat to be worn as part of our playing gear. We will need to work together and collaborate on effective reactivation systems to bring our fans back to the game—we will not recover if we have empty seats. Much is out of our control right now, and the dentists and dental hygienists that openly communicate the importance of staying productive will create a sustainable practice.

According to Bernie Stoltz, CEO of Fortune Practice Management, “In the midst of a crisis, you will become more of who you already are.” If an individual is already fearful, negative, and unimaginative, they will be even more so during a crisis. We have certainly witnessed fear, a lack of resourcefulness, and an unwillingness to cooperate emerge during this time-out. Dentists and dental hygienists who work together will set themselves apart and are sure to be successful on and off the playing field. Together as partners, we get to choose to be part of the solution with leadership, innovation, and collaboration. The most important thing is that the true winners in the game of dentistry will be the fans—our patients. After all, they are the true meaning of the game.


  1. Famous quotes by Vince Lombardi. http://www.vincelombardi.com/quotes.html
  2. Workforce. ADA. https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/dental-statistics/workforce
  3. Occupational employment statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. May 2019. Updated March 31, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291292.htm#(1)