How new dental hygienists can overcome common workplace hurdles

January 26, 2014

You’ve spent hundreds of hours for the past several years studying, learning documentation, scaling and polishing teeth. You’ve finally completed a rigorous curriculum and passed an exhaustive board exam. Now the time has come to implement your newly acquired abilities and begin your career as a Registered Dental Hygienist!

You’ve spent hundreds of hours for the past several years studying, learning documentation, scaling and polishing teeth. You’ve finally completed a rigorous curriculum and passed an exhaustive board exam.

Now the time has come to implement your newly acquired abilities and begin your career as a Registered Dental Hygienist!

Private practice is the avenue that most hygienists follow after graduation. You may think since you made it through hygiene school, working in private practice should be a piece of cake, right? However, many hygienists find the transition into the workforce to be overwhelming.

Unlike in hygiene school, in the workplace there are no checks to evaluate medical history intake, probing numbers, charting accuracy, and few doctors will review your scaling technique. It is now solely your responsibility to ensure that everything is completed correctly.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few common hurdles for new hygienists and how to overcome them.

1. Accurate Clinical Notes: Clinical notes are legal documents. They should consist of critical, concise and most importantly accurate information. You will need to document every aspect of the appointment, including any statements the patient makes concerning their treatment, in approximately one paragraph.  

Many offices no longer use paper charts and have dental software that has an “auto notes” feature, which allows you to fill in the blanks and add a short narrative. Mastering the brevity of clinical notes can be difficult for a new hygienist who is used to writing pages of detailed notes.

2. Time Management: What, I don’t have three hours for each hygiene appointment?  In many cases, reduced time for completing appointments is probably the hardest aspect of the transition from school to the workforce.

Many of your clinical practices will need to be adjusted for private practice. Keep in mind that a great deal of your time in school is spent waiting for a faculty check.

We all know waiting for a medical history, tissue, periodontal, and scaling check can easily take up to 45 minutes of the three hours. In private practice, the dentist is going to trust that you, a licensed professional, have completed everything correctly. The doctor is usually going to want an introduction to the patient and short summary of your findings.

3.  Working as a Team: You have gone through a rigorous program and now have a professional degree. Being able to work well with the rest of the staff will make your transition much easier.

Going in as a new graduate with the attitude - “I’m a hygienist and I deserve respect”-is not the right mindset for your new position.   

First and foremost, as a professional, you are there to provide quality care to the patients. You become a leader in helping the whole team serve the patients best interests. 

Asking “How can I help?” will identify you as a team player and ensure others will provide help to you when needed. Every staff member must earn the respect and trust of their colleagues.

4. Insurance Coding: How do I know what insurance code to use? Besides basic hygiene codes, most insurance coding is not taught in school.  Insurance coding is so much a language unto itself that the majority of dental offices have a staff member that strictly works on benefits, coding and treatment plans.   

You are sure to experience a learning curve while you become familiar with dental coding. Get a copy of the hygiene codes that the office uses and make a “cheat sheet” for yourself to use as a quick reference until you become confident with the codes. 

The transition can be made easier if you start from the initial interview.

Here are a few more tips for ensuring your transition is as smooth as possible:   

  • Create a list of your specific concerns and discuss them with the manager or dentist conducting the interview. 

  • A working interview is a way to get acquainted with the office routine and adjust your time to the schedule.

  • Ask to see a sample of the offices hygiene note format. Discuss expectations of what is to be documented and to what detail. If the office uses computer software you are unfamiliar with, they may have a tutorial so you can become familiar with the program.    

  • Each dentist may want different information when he or she arrives to complete the patient exam. Some want to socialize with the patient for a minute and others are all business. Inquire what you are expected to inform the doctor about during the hygiene exam.

Most importantly, you have earned the responsibility to provide optimum health care to each patient. 

Have confidence in yourself as a dental hygienist!