The role of dental hygienists in the 21st century dental office and how they provide patient care is truly evolving and adapting. Hygienists' ability to fact-find, assist in early diagnosis, treat and prevent disease, promote wellness with current medications, and motivate the patient could more accurately be described as the ultimate dental multitasker! For those offices with exceptional hygiene care, common denominators do exist.
What if your office does not have this "hygiene connection"? How do you prevent "the routine hygiene" burn-out? And how do you start to implement a different hygiene protocol for your office and patients?
Begin by empowering your hygienist. When you consider that the hygienist spends more time giving direct care over the patient's lifetime than the dentist, it becomes very clear the influence that exists in every session. Dentists need to respect, encourage, and nurture this special caregiver/patient relationship.
Quite simply, we must commit to provide a working environment that promotes contemporary hygiene tools, develop a pervasive attitude of willingness to utilize hygiene equipment to its fullest capacity, and encourage continuing education for a positive, knowledgeable direction that benefits all involved. This atmosphere not only promotes self-confidence in hygiene treatment technique, but also overflows to the patient and other team members.
In the age of customer service-based hygiene care, those offices that blend attentive patient care with current equipment and technology are front-runners. To build your hygiene team to excellence, certain hygiene tools are recognizable cornerstones of care. These practical additions make your goal very attainable.
- Ultrasonics — These cleaning tools are not only kind to the patient and the tissue, but when used properly, they greatly assist the clinician. The science behind the ultrasonic motion continually improves, allowing for better tactile sense and debris removal. In addition, several units can be outfitted for irrigation that allow for the delivery of selected lavage medicaments (Figure 1 — Dual Select Cavitron).
- Magnification — Loupes, as they are commonly called, need to be part of every hygienist's armamentarium. Under magnification, intricacies become easily discovered and truly elevate the level of hygiene care given. When evaluating which loupes will work best, consider resolution, light transmission, and distortion. Also take note that good companies will allow you a trial period to aid your selection (Figure 2). Magnification will elevate your hygienist's confidence in providing excellent patient care.
- Midwest RDH polisher — Yet another excellent tool, this slow-speed handpiece is not only lightweight, balanced, and ergonomic, but it greatly reduces prophy paste splatter (Figure 3). The built-in torque reduction allows for a gentle spin and paste delivery to the tooth surface.
- KaVo air polisher — The ultimate in stain removal gear, this proven winner works because it can quick-connect between operatories; the powder is easy to load, replace, and store; and the unit balances nicely in the operator's hand (Figure 4).
- Intraoral camera — To build case acceptance and promote co-diagnosis, pictures are the best way to secure patient ownership of their presentation. Patients want to see the problems they currently have and how they improve. Conversely, an intraoral camera can also be beneficial to the hygienist, because it gives an opportunity to examine the treatment that has been given and, in turn, educate and celebrate in each patient's success.
Routine hygiene is no longer mundane with the adoption of new challenges and methodology. Commitment and a willingness to change on the part of the dentist and hygienist are essential to elevate the team. As the leader, the dentist needs to establish a plan, with each step reaching a specific goal. Approach your hygienist with care that will be consistent, follow with a protocol detailing the care for every patient, and provide the necessary technology to make your hygienist's job easier.
Both team members need to discuss the care that each hygiene patient will receive. The key to successful periodontal therapy is consistent verbiage concerning the disease, treatment, and outcome expectations. Chosen products and their precise benefits within the practice should be readied for the patient's benefit.
A hygiene treatment protocol must be established. This protocol is a routinely followed regimen of patient discovery, existing presentations, and treatment armamentarium. Protocols are simply step-by-step recipes for success. Of course, each formula has to be customized for individual patients' needs.
Finally, in the hygiene master plan, chart what equipment or tools are needed to achieve your hygiene dream. Instead of a big gulp, go for small tastes or one new tool to master. This method not only instills confidence but also represents a new level of satisfaction the hygienist can accomplish.
With planned dedication, you can transform your hygiene team into an exceptional, winning combination of care and commitment. Your patients will benefit, your hygiene team will be content, and you, as the dentist, will achieve a level of satisfaction knowing the challenge has been met.
Lori Trost, DMD
Dr. Trost is the managing editor of Woman Dentist Journal. She created the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill., in 1989. Her practice is known for being in the technological forefront. She is a member of the ADA and AGD.You may contact Dr. Trost at [email protected].