Do you know that you’ve got a built-in moneymaker at your dental practice? It’s called hygiene production, and enhancing this aspect of your practice can provide substantial benefits.
The problem, however, is that hygiene production—and in some respects hygienists in general—are often overlooked.
Deborah Lyle, RDH, MS, director of professional and clinical affairs for Water Pik Inc., says that based on her 18 years in dental practice, as well as what she hears anecdotally, hygienists are not necessarily utilized as effectively as possible.
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“Sometimes offices do 30-minute (hygiene) appointments,” Lyle explains. “And that is just not enough time for the hygienist to really establish a rapport and understand a patient’s interests.”
Increased face time, Lyle says, enables hygienists to better educate patients to make informed decisions from which the practice will benefit.
Time Well Spent
Lyle explains that if hygienists are empowered to schedule appointments and time as needed, rather than being held to a fixed block of time, they’re better equipped to develop a relationship. That enhanced time may enable them to identify work needing to be done, and that can help grow the practice as well as hygiene production.
“I would never work in a practice that gave me less than an hour for my patients,” Lyle says.
In a typical first visit, new patients are often scheduled for a basic cleaning. But Lyle says that’s not good use of a hygienist’s time. Instead, time needs to be devoted to oral cancer screening, oral home care, and full periodontal charting. That gives the hygienist the ability to use all of her skills to establish a relationship.
“You can develop a care plan for that patient, which would include other visits with the hygienist,” Lyle says. “It’s good internal marketing as well as external marketing. Your practice can grow from that.”
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And the benefits, Lyle adds, extend well beyond the 4 walls of the practice.
“There is a huge benefit, especially the more we’re finding out about the link with oral healthcare and other systemic diseases to the patient.”
A 28-year-old patient may not realize their blood pressure has gone up, or because there’s no history of diabetes in their family may not even have that on their mind. But hygienists are educated to recognize that.
“You’re empowering the hygienist to really utilize her skills and critical thinking,” Lyle says. “And also that collaborative effort when you bring the dentist in, and then between the 2 of them, they can work up a nice treatment plan and present it to the patient.”
Respect and Communication
Lyle explains that from the standpoint of patient care, it’s important that a high level of communication and mutual respect exist between dentists and hygienists. Dentists, she says, are experts in restorative and diagnostics, but hygienists possess an expertise in prevention.
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“As a combination, it’s a great team as long as everyone respects what the other person brings to the table,” she says.
With any business, someone needs to be in charge and make most of the decisions. But Lyle explains that the way those decisions are made is important to that aspect of mutual respect. For example, a dentist may listen to an idea the hygienist has, think about it, and then come back and say, “Yes, I would like to do that,” or, “Based on where we’re located, or our patient pool, I’m not going to do that now, but I appreciate you bringing it to me.”
“They don’t always have to agree,” Lyle says. “But that professionalism is very important. That’s why I think being able to utilize multiple skills in your role as hygienist in the practice and really be part of the team, a well-educated licensed part of the team, is very fulfilling.”
Enhancing Revenue Stream
Lyle says that growing hygiene production in a practice can have a positive bottom-line impact overall. When patients feel good about the relationships they’re building with their oral health practitioners, the aspect of referral kicks in, and they tell others, “You’ve got to go to my dentist.”
It’s what sets one dental practice apart from others, says Lyle, who used to do oral cancer screenings and a head and neck exam with every patient. And when she explained what she was doing, patients often said, “Wow, no one has ever done that before.”
“That’s one thing I didn’t like to hear,” Lyle says. “I know hygienists who have actually found lesions and referred patients. So, you can definitely increase the bottom line.”