Th 160939

Hygiene Touch: Friend or Foe?

Oct. 1, 2004
"Hurry, run, and hide in the back!" barks the receptionist. Yet again, the hygienist, familiar with the drill, retreats to the corner operatory to await the "all clear."

"Hurry, run, and hide in the back!” barks the receptionist. Yet again, the hygienist, familiar with the drill, retreats to the corner operatory to await the “all clear.” Putting an ear to the door, hoping to catch mumbled jargon when the dental supplier enters the office, the hygienist strains to decode the conversation. “Oh, to have a new ultrasonic scaler with a complete set of focused spray inserts,” dreams the hygienist. Once business cards are exchanged, the colorful literature is left at the business desk, and the front door closes, the coast is now clear for the office to downgrade from high alert.

This situation may seem far-fetched, but one may be surprised to discover there are doctors who never permit the hygienist - under any circumstances - to speak with sales representatives. Perhaps these doctors fear that the hygienist will ask for something new and the upgrade will become excessively costly, so they do not encourage in-office visits from manufacturers.

At one point in my career, I found myself faced with such a situation; I felt out of touch with the products that were available. Unfortunately, in my case, any major purchases (even hygiene items) were selected by the office manager with very little valuable input from a hygienist. “What’s on special” products were by and large the ordering choice. If you find yourself in this similar conflict, lay down the arms, Doctor, and consider the product knowledge your hygienist brings to your practice. Hygienists are educated and thirst for updated information on products to make the practice of hygiene physically enjoyable. We understand office overhead costs and production needs. Our goal is not to drive the practice into the red by suggesting a special purchase.

For a cohesive team to exist, you must entertain communication on the needs and desires of the hygiene team. Scheduling time between the hygienist and doctor for periodic equipment evaluations can help the office plan for major purchases in a controlled fashion. Understandably, there are times during the year that present better opportunities to make large purchases. Dental conventions, which promote money-saving specials, may be the perfect time to make a major investment. Also, talk with your tax advisor, because end-of-year buying may be desirable as a tax-lowering incentive for the practice.

Dental consultants have a wealth of product knowledge to share with your team as well. Sales representatives visit many offices daily and know about which major investments may work cohesively in your office. They bring innovative product ideas right to your dental office, along with product samples and demonstration models. An able sales consultant can provide “lunch and learns” on available products, introduce the dental team firsthand to industry trends that suit your office, and suggest technology to fit the speed of your practice. As an added benefit, some may even set up convenient online ordering and offer savings with monthly specials your office regularly uses or assist in bulk buying. Your rep might also provide information on which equipment the service department regularly repairs, thus saving you maintenance dollars.

Major purchases - especially hygiene equipment such as ultrasonic scalers, intraoral cameras, lasers, ergonomic equipment, and stools - are fast becoming dental operatory essentials. Ask your hygienist for helpful input on those investments, particularly if the product is to be used strictly for hygiene. If possible, have your hygienist do research on an item she would like to incorporate. Value your hygienist’s past work experiences in other offices and ask which products functioned well there or failed. Asking colleagues, consulting journals, and examining product literature and reviews are all excellent means for gaining insight on a particular product.

Another way to gain information prior to making a major purchase is to ask for customer referrals from the company with which you are dealing. Hands-on continuing-education courses are another way to gain knowledge about products. Nothing is worse than buying equipment or major products that do not integrate well with your office. Wise purchasing eliminates unwanted stress. For­tunate­ly, in my office, the doctor asks us to periodically write wish lists for new products or equipment. This makes planning for large purchases easier to arrange, and the doctor has a better time frame for mapping out when the purchase can take place.

Call a peace treaty with your sales consultant and avoid unwarranted confrontations when purchasing major equipment for the office. Once one recognizes that sales representatives are friends of the practice and not foes, procuring new equipment will not need to be a tactical maneuver. When the hygienist and doctor combine forces, strategically plan, and investigate needed products prior to purchase, equipment can be easily implemented to promote practice growth.

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Karen Kaiser, RDH
Ms. Kaiser has been in the dental field since 1986. She graduated from St. Louis, Mo., Forest Park hygiene program in 1994 and practices in Illinois at the Center for Contemporary Dentistry. Ms. Kaiser authors articles, presents, and can be reached at At Your Fingertips: [email protected].