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    How dental hygienists can find more time during appointments by talking less

    Are your patients' dental appointments turning into dental visits instead? One hygienist tells you how she turned her focus around by chatting less.

    The most common objection to providing additional services in the hygiene department is, "I don't have enough time to do more." That’s understandable. As the dental hygienists in the office, we are the direct line to patients, spending the most one-on-one time with them. As we all know, the list of required duties for a dental hygiene appointment is long and it includes talking.

    Of course, talking for the purpose of educating and creating good relationships is a major duty of all dental hygienists. Usually this communication has to be made in-between, during, or on top of all clinical duties. Additionally, this direct contact with patients may become part of a "visit," which is a culture many offices have fostered. Although friendliness is welcome and necessary, I describe a "visit" as a dental appointment that focuses on an assumption that hygienists' primary duty is to discuss the kids, the latest vacation, the big game, or the state of the union.

    Although creating an atmosphere of comfort and empathy is vital to trust, a dental appointment that centers on improving the health and well being of the patient is paramount. For instance, the identification of potential oral cancer, testing for periodontal pathogens, and/or remineralization of white spot lesions can literally change patients’ lives. These services can be life-saving, keeping teeth viable to chew and improving digestion or saving thousands of dollars by staying the inevitability of full-blown caries. In fact, the list of new and additional services that can be offered during the hygiene appointment is overwhelming, especially if the idea of implementing a comprehensive oral cancer evaluation is enough to create a time crunch.

    One sure way to find more time during your patients’ appointments is to reduce "visiting." The best advice I ever received was delivered to me by my aunt, a saint on earth and long-time dental aficionado (who attended her 3-month recare appointments like clockwork from age 25). And I quote, “I guess I look like I am interested in my hygienist's life, but I really want her to please quit talking and get her work done so I can go on with my day."

    What a shock to have heard this! I had been under the impression that it was a hygienist's duty to nurture, listen to stories, empathize, and ultimately talk for the entire hour to help patients feel comfortable. I could not believe how much less time it took to clean a patient’s teeth when I stopped chatting through the whole appointment.

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    Also, how many times have we heard jokes and comments about asking our patient’s questions while he or she is laying back in a somewhat compromised position? Is this an effective way to educate a patient? While I understand the notion that multitasking is the answer for time management concerns, examine that picture again. This should be a conversation with opportunity to question and respond. Upon discovery of a problem, use a handheld mirror and show your patients the area you will discuss at the end of the appointment while they are sitting up. Finish your task, sit them up, take off your mask, look them in the eyes, and deliver your oral hygiene instruction. You may discover some needed clinical time during your hour when you spend 5 intense minutes at the end of the appointment.

    Consider these recommendations for finding precious minutes for every patient as the list of new services will no doubt continue to expand. I discovered I could offer more services, feel less stressed, and truly impact my patients from a professional aspect when I stopped talking when I should not.

    Leslie Pope Neveu, RDH has worked in the dental profession for 30 years. She worked as a dental hygienist in New Mexico, Switzerland, and Colorado. Most recently, Leslie advised dental practices as a clinical coach specializing in the Dental Hygiene department. Leslie can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].