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Beat the Clock: A Hygienist’s Guide to Stress-Free Time Management


Cultivating good time management skills mitigates stress in the dental office. So, how do we harness these skills while also providing effective dental care for patients?

Beat the Clock: A Hygienist's Guide to Stress-Free Time Management. Image credit: © Kaspars Grinvalds - stock.adobe.com

Beat the Clock: A Hygienist's Guide to Stress-Free Time Management. Image credit: © Kaspars Grinvalds - stock.adobe.com

As dental hygienists, the demands of patient care, navigating ever-changing schedules, and administrative tasks can often create overwhelming stress. In addition to high levels of pain, dental professionals also face a staggering amount of work-related stress and burnout. One survey conducted by the American Dental Association showed that 80% of dental professionals report experiencing high levels of stress in their daily practice.¹

Heightened stress levels among clinicians can affect energy, focus, and vitality. Stress can affect patient care, job satisfaction and fulfillment, and career longevity.²⁻⁶ In the fast-paced environment of a dental office, mastering our time becomes crucial not only for efficiency but also for delivering optimal patient care and maintaining our well-being. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies to help hygienists navigate stress through effective time management techniques.

Chart Review: The Art of Being Prepared

As dental hygienists, one of the most empowering things we can do is to take control where we can, and one way to do that is by being prepared. Before each day, review your schedule thoroughly, going through each patient one at a time. Create a checklist that incorporates all the essential details you need to know ahead of time to support the patient and appointment flow. As you review your schedule for the day, run through the checklist for each patient, making any necessary notes along the way. You may include things like:

  • The patient’s last hygiene visit and recall schedule
  • Review medical history (medications, blood pressure, etc)
  • Review dental history and proposed treatment
  • Evaluate radiographs, probe readings, and any relevant intraoral photos

Familiarizing yourself with this information beforehand makes you feel more prepared for the day and for each patient. This also helps create smoother transitions between patients because you don’t have to scramble to gather all the information quickly. As you bounce from one appointment to the next, you’ll feel more at ease and confident in addressing each patient’s unique needs. Plus, this reduces time spent during the appointment reviewing the patients’ chart and, in turn, supports better time management and personalized patient care.

Appointment Flow: Structuring Efficiency

Establishing a structured flow for the entire hygiene appointment is instrumental in optimizing your time and minimizing stress as a hygienist. Break down each step of a routine hygiene visit from start to finish and create a systematic approach that makes sense for you and your patients to flow through the appointment with ease and efficiency. Some things you may want to think about include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Seat patient, review medical/dental history, and note any concerns
  • Take and chart blood pressure
  • Perform oral cancer screening, initial screening, and capture intraoral photos
  • Probe, review, and begin initial patient education
  • Begin prophylaxis with strategic flow
  • Sit the patient up for oral hygiene instruction and patient education
  • Doctor exam, review concerns, create treatment plan as needed
  • Final patient education, product recommendations, answer questions
  • Schedule the next hygiene visit, and bring the patient to the front for a handoff

Although it’s essential to remain flexible and adaptable to unforeseen circumstances, which inevitably arise in dentistry, having a predefined flow provides a road map for navigating appointments with more ease and confidence. You’ll spend less time worrying about what’s next and what you haven’t done, and more time focused on your patient. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of what you want to do throughout the appointment at any given time, supporting better time management. By streamlining your workflow, you’ll find yourself better equipped to handle any challenges that may arise during the day.

Prophylaxis Flow: Optimizing Patient Care

So many hygienists say that they change the way they perform a prophylaxis regularly. Meaning, sometimes they start on the lower left, sometimes the upper right, or sometimes the lower front. But here’s the thing: Creating a well-defined prophylaxis flow is key to delivering comprehensive and efficient patient care. When you’re performing a traditional prophylaxis, establishing a systematic approach within the oral cavity supports more ease, efficiency, and productivity for the practitioner. Develop a sequential process of going through the mouth that allows you to maintain proper positioning with as few movements as possible and incorporate the patient as minimally as necessary. By incorporating a structured flow into your hygiene visit, you’ll not only improve your clinical efficiency but also elevate the overall patient experience.

Wellness Tools for Stress Reduction

In addition to mastering time management techniques, incorporating wellness practices into your daily routine can significantly alleviate stress, support efficiency, and promote overall well-being.

Chairside stretches: Consider integrating gentle chairside stretches before each patient. Taking a few long, slow deep breaths with a simple stretch can help reduce tension through tight, overworked muscles, improve circulation, and relax the nervous system. Chairside stretches throughout the workday also help to reduce recovery time after work, and practitioners can easily schedule them into their day.

Prioritizing ergonomics: Prioritize proper ergonomics throughout your workday, ensuring both practitioner and patient comfort during treatments. Invest your time into learning and incorporating new ergonomic practices, tools, and tips to reduce the risk of pain or a musculoskeletal disorder. Proper ergonomics reduces abnormal wear and tear, fatigue, and stress while improving efficiency and productivity.

Balanced exercise: Find a way outside of work to strengthen and stretch. It’s important to find exercises that promote muscular balance and support optimal posture, fostering long-term physical health and resilience against occupational risks.

There is a direct connection between pain and stress. When we’re in pain, stress often affects us more easily and frequently. Additionally, when we’re in pain and under stress, we have less focus and energy for our work and our patients. However, when we focus on pain prevention and stress management, stressors affect us less, things run more smoothly, and we have more to give to our patients. By implementing healthier routines both in and out of work, we reduce stress levels and improve efficiency and productivity.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Effective time management for dental hygienists is crucial. Even though it may take time to create new systems, it will save you time and energy in the long run. By prioritizing tasks, optimizing workflows, and integrating wellness practices into your daily routines, you empower yourself to navigate stress in the dental office with more ease and efficiency while creating a more positive impact for your patients and community.

  1. American Dental Association. 2021 Dentist Well-Being Survey Report. American Dental Association. Updated February 1, 2022. Accessed October 2023. https://ebusiness.ada.org/Assets/docs/101863.pdf
  2. Gorter RC. Work stress and burnout among dental hygienists. Int J Dent Hyg. 2005;3(2):88-92. doi:10.1111/j.1601-5037.2005.00130.x
  3. Rada RE, Johnson-Leong C. Stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among dentists. J Am Dent Assoc. 2004;135(6):788-794. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2004.0279
  4. Kulkarni S, Dagli N, Duraiswamy P, Desai H, Vyas H, Baroudi K. Stress and professional burnout among newly graduated dentists. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(6):535-541. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.195509
  5. Bercasio LV, Rowe DJ, Yansane AI. Factors associated with burnout among dental hygienists in California. J Dent Hyg. 2020;94(6):40-48.
  6. Hallett G, Witton R, Mills I. A survey of mental wellbeing and stress among dental therapists and hygienists in South West England. Br Dent J. Published online December 13, 2022. doi:10.1038/s41415-022-5357-5
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