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Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author of 18 technology books, including the award-winning Green IT: Reduce Your Information System's Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line. As such, he’s particularly interested in the technological side of dentistry.
'Tis the season to be thankful for many things-especially hygienists and assistants.
Every fall we celebrate our reasons to be appreciative.
While we tend to go around the Thanksgiving table and share thoughts on health, family and happiness, blessings of all sizes and shapes should be remembered. For instance, take some time to knowledge the roles that hygienists and assistants play in the practice.
We talked to members of our Editorial Advisory Board who shared some of the reasons why they are thankful for their hygienists and assistants.
Continue to the next page to see why you should be thankful for hygienists and assistants.
Part of practicing dentistry is being the team’s leader and Dr. Erinne Kennedy, DMD, Dental Public Health Resident at Harvard School of Dental Medicine observes that her hygienist and assistant help her grow in that capacity.
“I’m so thankful for her, because she helps me grow as a leader,” Dr. Kennedy says. “She keeps me in check. She keeps challenging me on slowing down and being patient and being empathetic, and all of these other values that really have nothing to do with my restorations. Because of her, I’ve become a better human being.”
The heavy lifting
Hygienists and assistants have more interaction with the patients and are, often, the go-to person when it comes time to explain a condition or treatment.
“The assistants keep us sane,” Dr. Jason Watts, DMD, a general dentist in Cape Coral, Florida says. “Once the patient is in the chair, they take the brunt of explanation. They are the unofficial diagnosticians. They are our data collectors. The patient will see them more than us, and the patients come back for my hygienist and my dental assistants, not for me. I’m just the icing on the cake. You don’t buy a cake for the icing, you buy a cake for the cake.”
Hygienists and assistants are highly trained and highly skilled, and that ability shines through in the end product.
“When it comes to our patients’ health, it may just be a three-way street,” Dr. David Rice, DDS, a general dentist in Amherst, New York, and founder of IgniteDDS.com says. “Of course, our patients have to do their share. That said, we can deliver the highest quality of restorative care there is. There's no way our restorative treatment lasts without your help.”
Since patients have so much interaction with hygienists and assistants, they have their own level of rapport. That connection is just as important for patient retention as is the doctor’s skill.
“Your hygiene team is what encourages patients to return,” Dr. Watts observes. “They are the screeners to the whole practice. They catch any type of work that I need to do, unless I’m seeing an emergency. The hygienists are the drivers of the business, because they end up seeing patients more frequently than anyone else in the practice. They’re the bloodline. They catch what we miss. They catch what’s new. They remind a patient of what’s old. The rapport that they establish with the patient is what keeps our doors open and our lights on.”
Dentistry is different than it was 25 years ago; it’s different than it was last year. Everyone in the practice has to keep up on what’s new and improved, and Dr. Watts says his hygiene and assisting team is another avenue for education.
“It’s their job to keep most up-to-date with the newest and most advanced protocols of hygiene and home education,” Dr. Watts says. “As a team, we are only as strong as our weakest link. And all eyes are better than just my eyes, so I encourage all my staff, that if they find something that I miss, or if they find something that might not look good with my work, they are the reassurers that my work is consistent and good and effective and proper.”
Simply by virtue of their roles, Dr. Kennedy is thankful for her hygiene team.
“I’m thankful for my hygienist because she makes every exam easy,” Dr. Kennedy says. “Her hygiene handoff is stellar. She, basically, describes the patient in such great detail that I already know what I’m looking at before I sit down. She always gives the best introduction to patients so I always feel like she helps my relationship with my patients, too.”
An extra pair of eyes, notes Dr. Watts, is invaluable. Being able to double-check the doctor’s work is a helpful duty.
“They’re my accountability buddies,” Dr. Watts says. “Sometimes I look at so many mouths in a short period of time, sometimes my dental assistants will catch something that I’ve missed and they’ll bring it to my attention. They’re the people that support me and make sure I don’t miss anything, and validate everything that I’ve missed to the patient as important, because the patient isn’t going to ask me, at the end. They’re going to ask the staff. They’re going to ask the dental assistants for the hygienists. So, I’m super appreciative, because I’m a closer of treatment, but the patient will accept the treatment because my staff has a rapport with them.”
The human touch
Dentistry can be very technical and hard for patients to wrap their brains around. As such, the hygienists and assistants are key in describing and explaining difficult concepts and procedures.
“It goes without saying that what we do as dental pros can be pretty sciencey,” Dr. Rice observes. “With that, it can be difficult to hear and understand as we describe what problems are in our patients’ mouths. Every time you take an intraoral camera picture, our patients ask me what they need to do to fix their problems.”
As is the case with any workplace, the people you see every day you spend more time with that family. And, that being the case, it is critical to have a good relationship.
“My staff is my family,” Dr. Watts says. “I see them more than I do my actual family at home. They’re my best friends, they’re my employees, but most of all they’re family and nothing can be achieved without them.
Doctors need validation for their work, too. Dr. Rice observes that the reassuring voice of the hygienist or assistant is good for his own morale.
“It's easy to point out what our patients could do better,” Dr. Rice says. “It's also easy to forget how much time and effort we put in to delivering optimum care. Every time you point out the 10-year-old completed dentistry we've done still looks great, you build value.”