Dental Staffing

The Dental Hygienist: Five Characteristics that Define Excellent Patient Care

I’m so glad you enjoyed the ‘Four Characteristics of an Awesome Dental Hygienist’. I know you work hard and to say you’re our right arm is an understatement. I think it only fair to talk about your co-worker, the Dental Hygienist. I’m certain that to most people, the work they do appears easy; can I just say this is a long way from true.

When I received my license to practice Dental Hygiene back in 1976, I had one role: cleaning teeth. Today there’s a variety of duties practiced by Dental Hygienists. As the demand for Dental providers has grown, it has become necessary to expand their role much the same way the Nurse Practitioner and Physician’s Assistant has done in medicine. So, aside from their various levels of participation in the Dental Office, here are my thoughts on ~

The Dental Hygienist: Five Characteristics That Define Excellent Patient Care

1.  Patient Education

The Dental Hygienist who can consistently provide education to their patients on a level they can use and understand would receive my vote for excellence.  As a former Dental Hygienist, I can tell you that giving patient education day after day, and week after week is tedious, monotonous work. If an individual is not up for this redundant type of responsibility…and it is their responsibility…I don’t believe a level of excellence can be reached.

This means they ask the patient to demonstrate their use of a toothbrush and/or dental floss and modify where necessary. They do not verbally describe brushing or show the patient what they do. They watch the patient and modify their technique to assist them in improving their dental health.

I’m not sure why, but when I temp for various offices, I often hear the Hygienist talk about “massaging the gums”. I roll my eyes as I walk past their operatory asking myself “where are they getting this information?” It doesn’t have anything to do with massaging gums; it’s removal of bacteria…period.

For the majority of your patients: control the bacteria and you’ll control disease. It’s not brushing in circles; if you tell them that they’ll make circles as big as a nickel. It’s not anaerobic bacteria, its germs. It’s not periodontal disease, its gum disease. It’s not “you need to floss”; tell them why. If you know they’re not going to floss, recommend a Waterpik. ALSO: you need to show them the  proper use of the Waterpik.

I feel as if some Hygienists make these comments because they feel the patient won’t understand what they are trying to say. However, the “removal of harmful bacteria every 24 hours ” is easy enough for most any patient to understand.

2.  Continuous Improvement of Skills and Knowledge

The Dental Hygienist who works to consistently improve their clinical skills and increase their knowledge of Dental disease would receive my vote for excellence. I certainly did not graduate from Dental Hygiene School knowing how to effectively root plane or sharpen my instruments. Information regarding research in periodontology advances all the time.

They devise language they can share with their patients in a way they can understand and benefit. They are in a partnership with the Dentist because they look for decay, oral cancer, and periodontal disease that’s not responding to treatment; all to be certain the appropriate referrals are given when necessary.

As the need for Dental Healthcare providers increases, the Dental Hygienists now have opportunity to further educate themselves in expanded functions including administration of anesthesia, both local anesthesia and nitrous oxide, prescription writing, and placement of filling materials.

3.  Proper Documentation

Too often I read the documentation coming out of the Hygiene departments that is seriously lacking. Most often it’s repetitive, general documentation without details and accurate verbiage of the patient’s oral condition. Every patient is different, every attitude toward the information that is presented is different, and needs to be approached on an individual basis.

Dental Hygienists need to know that they are not above being sued. Supervised neglect is a real issue and without proper documentation, you are open to malpractice. A malpractice claim with turn your life upside down for a long time. The excellent Dental Hygienist will study Risk Management and Documentation as a part of complete care for the patient.

4.  A Team Player

The Dental Hygienist who is not above filling their own schedule, turning a room, helping in sterilization or filing/pulling charts has my vote for excellence. The Hygienist who can sit in the break room and read a magazine while everyone else is Mach ten with their hair on fire, is the antithesis of a Team player.

I once heard a Hygienist who was asked if he’d help the team catch up in sterilization. He responded with “I didn’t go to Dental Hygiene school to work in sterilization.” He’s no longer with the company and he didn’t leave voluntarily!

5.  Personable, Yet Professional

The Dental Hygienist who knows what he or she can, and more importantly, cannot discuss with the patient, would receive my vote of excellence. The focus of the appointment is on the patient and their dental needs; there is no discussion of the Hygienist’s personal life or problems.

I often hear Dental Assistants say they want to go into Dental Hygiene. When questioned, the most prevalent reason I hear has to do with an increase in income.  I’m all for ambition, but my response is always this: “First, don’t be fooled; treating oral disease, even simple cleanings all day is hard, repetitive work. Then there’s the responsibility of continuously educating the patient. It can be redundant, and grueling. In knowing that, if you’re up for it, I commend you.



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