The hygienist’s role in practice growth

A properly run hygiene department can account for 25–35 percent of the general practice’s production total.

A properly run hygiene department can account for 25–35 percent of the general practice’s production total.

In today’s challenging dental market, that fact alone makes the hygienist a key player in practice success. Yet that’s only the beginning of how he or she can contribute to the long-term growth of your dental business.

Most patients probably regard you as the VIP at your office and may have positive impressions of other staff members: the front desk coordinator’s helpful, pleasant manner over the phone, for example, or a dental assistant’s comforting touch. But the person they spend the most time with and are most likely to form a relationship with is probably the hygienist.

Also from Dr. Levin: The biggest mistakes dentists make: Not crafting a new patient experience

Building on hygienist-patient connections

Although hygienists have much to accomplish during a patient visit, there are still usually small opportunities for conversation. With a certain amount of planning and a selection of scripts designed to simplify interacting appropriately and effectively, hygienists can play a vital role in building the practice:

  • A patient and hygienist can get to know and like each other. It’s unrealistic to expect patients to truly enjoy office visits. But if they like the hygienist, they’re more likely to stay on schedule. By moving the relationship from the strictly professional to the personal, your hygienist can strengthen the patient-practice bond, building loyalty.


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  • The hygienist can become a trusted oral health advisor. You’re the dental authority for your patients, but they will also value having a chance to discuss dental issues with a friendly third party: your hygienist. This creates an opportunity for him or her to endorse your recommendations.

  • She can bring up treatment that has not yet been accepted. Like a curious friend, your hygienist can ask if patients have thought any more about treatment you’ve presented but that hasn’t been accepted. Typically, this will feel much less like pressure, or selling, than if you were to bring it up. Often, it will remind patients of the treatment they need (or want) and lead to acceptance.

  • The hygienist can more easily encourage referrals.When two people are comfortable talking with each other, a request for referrals will be less obtrusive… and more persuasive. By mastering simple scripts, your hygienist can be prepared to say the right thing at the right moment.

Also from Dr. Levin: The biggest mistakes dentists make: Living above your means

If you want to take advantage of these natural hygienist-patient connections, be proactive. Discuss the possibilities with your hygienist. Be sensitive to the fact that he or she already has a long list of tasks to accomplish during each appointment. Also, provide scripting and other training support to make it easier for your hygienist to add relationship-building to his or her skillset.


As the dental market grows more challenging, forming durable relationships with patients becomes more important than ever. Your hygienist is in the best position to form these relationships, so you should do what you can to facilitate this process. The result will be increased production and patient referrals.

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Learn more: 5 steps to lower your overhead