Hygienists can make or break a practice. So take your hygiene department very seriously.
Hygiene isn’t the biggest dollar-getter in your practice (that’s you), so they’re not the engine that drives a practice’s profitability. But they’re the oil that keeps it all going. Ever try to run an engine with no (or bad) oil? It ain’t pretty.
Because it’s so vital to your success, you can and should demand a lot from your hygiene department. Here are three things to demand of your hygienists.
A friend of mine worked in a startup office as a hygienist. The owner and office manager really emphasized creating a welcoming environment for patients. As the only hygienist, she took that seriously and took the time to make sure each patient was treated like they were the most important patient.
By the time she moved, she had patients stopping by with flowers for the office, bringing in homemade salsa and giving her gifts for her upcoming baby. To this day she still brags she had the best patients ever.
As a practice owner, your hygienists are your front line in patient management. Patients may be seated and greeted by the front desk but once they’re called back to the operatory, who do they spend the next 45-90 minutes with? More often than not it’s the hygienist.
If they’re personable, the hygienist can fill that patient with confidence and put them at ease prior to your introduction and subsequent care. They build personal relationships, especially with new patients, that you just don’t have the time for. They hear about careers, families and hobbies on top of medical conditions and dental concerns.
“How is your home care?” “How was Billy’s hockey season?” “Any news on the promotion?” It’s connections like this that turn a patient of convenience into a patient for life — and a patient who’s likely to refer their friends and family to you.
I go into more detail on this — and every other aspect of purchasing a practice — in my online course. I recently dropped the price for the whole course (
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File this one under “well yeah, duh.” But just because it’s obvious, doesn’t make it any less true: each hygienist should be clinically proficient.
Every practice is unique and emphasizes different treatments and philosophies. However, the fundamentals should all be there. Can they perform to the standard of care within the given appointment time? Can they take diagnostic radiographs? Is their periodontal diagnosis criteria up to date? Do they adhere to ADA recommendations on recall intervals, fluoride treatments or sealants?
Add this to the “personability” factor above, and the competent, trusted hygienist can even prime a patient for potential treatment needs before you come in for the exam. This will give the patient confidence in the office’s clinical competence and trust that recommendations are in their best interest instead of just a doctor coming in for 5 minutes and giving $7,000 worth of treatment.
By nature, most private dental practices are like mini families. You spend a TON of time together working side by side. So the success of your practice is very much linked to the cohesion of you and your staff.
In my experience, most negative office experiences are linked to one rotten egg: one toxic co-worker who was lazy, or incompetent, or gossipy, or what have you. If you have one of these in your practice, then my advice is simple: get rid of them ASAP.
Then, look for a hygienist that takes teamwork more seriously. They happily help out around the office, even if it’s not in their job description. They look for ways to help checking patients out, reviewing treatment plans, flipping rooms, numbing for you if you’re running behind, cleaning the bathroom, etc.
Expect that your hygienists are encouraging to their co-workers and pleasant to be around. It may take some time but if you can build a strong, reliable, helpful team, your patients will feel the difference and you will have more peace at work and less stress at home.
You and your hygienists form the core of your office culture. So find hygienists who are personable, confident, competent, and team players. You don’t want just another employee on payroll. If you can find a hygienist that fits the bill, patients and staff members will stick with you for the long haul, and you can leave your office each day with one less worry — actually, many fewer worries.