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"Is Your Dental Hygiene Department ‘A Diamond in the Rough?" by Kathleen Bokrossy, RDH

Imagine a dental hygiene department that focuses on continuing to improve the “Dental Hygiene Experience” for every patient that walks in the door.  Imagine a program that consistently delivers a positive physical, intellectual and emotional experience for each and every patient.  Imagine an office where every patient knows that they have a team of experts that are delivering important health care and are honestly motivated and interested in their long term well-being.  Wow, now that’s an image worth chasing!    

A well run, well executed dental hygiene program can be a tremendous asset to any dental practice looking to grow and prosper in these changing times.  It provides the opportunity to interact with your patients on a regular basis.  Repeated positive exposure to your practice is the key to growing a strong and loyal patient base that can lead to a steady stream of new patient referrals and increased restorative revenue.   Making the “Dental Hygiene Experience” great, is an important piece to the success in any dental practice.  This article looks to outline the 3 aspects that make up the “Dental Hygiene Experience”.  After reading this article, evaluate your practice and see where you think there is opportunity to tweak, adjust, or completely overhaul how your dental hygiene department interacts with your patients. 

Based on my 25 plus years, I believe that improving the “Dental Hygiene Experience” from the patient’s perspective can be broken down into three primary aspects:


1. The Patient’s Intellectual Experience:  We can often forget how important it is to educate the patient on the importance of good oral hygiene.  As we know, good oral hygiene is both a preventative measure as well as an early warning opportunity for patients.  Through education and an engaged “Dental Hygiene Experience” the dental hygienist is able to reinforce to the patient the importance of home care and regular visits.  Too often the dental hygiene visit has become so routine and perhaps rushed, that the dental hygienist doesn’t use this great opportunity to educate and inform the patient on all the wonderful benefits of maintaining optimal oral health.  The patient’s intellectual experience is about reminding them why they are spending the time, effort and expense of going to the dentist and dental hygienist.  Done creatively, honestly and by getting a patient intellectually engaged in the importance of overall good oral hygiene will lead to increased visit frequency and excited referrals to their friends and family.  Getting your entire dental team excited and communicating the tangible benefits of regular dental hygiene visits will grow your practice year after year. 

2. The Patient’s Physical Experience:  Creating a positive physical experience is an essential part of any dental hygiene visit.  That fresh invigorated feeling vs the discomfort that can be part of any dental visit needs to be consciously developed and built into your work flow.  


An uncomfortable dental hygiene experience reduces repeat visits, offers no referral opportunity and at the end of the day truly hampers the practices opportunity for growth and productivity.  It’s critical to look at the “Dental Hygiene Experience” from this aspect as there are so many specific things we can do to reduce the discomfort and increase the positive and invigorated feeling that a patient can have following treatment. 

Examples of proactive steps that can be taken:

a. Measurement:  You can’t improve what you can’t measure so make sure your patients know that you take their comfort very seriously.  Get the feedback you need to know whether your patients find their experience more painful than it should be and be sure to react to the data you collect!

b. Training: Technique matters!  Education doesn’t stop at dental hygiene school.  It is important that dental hygienists continue to participate in hands-on training to take their skills to the next level.

c. Instrument selection:  Using the correct instrument for its intended use, reduces unnecessary pain and discomfort.   

d. Instrument maintenance:  This one is very common and has an immediate impact on the patient experience.  Poorly managed and maintained instruments chairside increases patient discomfort, dental hygiene fatigue and negatively impacts all aspects of the experience.

e. New Technologies and techniques:  There are new technologies that are being introduced all the time.  Being aware of these new methods to manage and reduce pain can help keep your patients in your chair instead of requesting to move to another one! 


3. The Patient’s Emotional Experience:  The path to strong restorative referrals, increased dental hygiene visit frequency and increased dental hygiene treatment comes directly from the trust that the dental team is able to develop with the patient.  The patient has to believe that you are only recommending procedures that are truly in their best interest.  Trust is an emotional feeling and must be satisfied on two levels. 


a. Trust Level 1 – Capability:  The patient must believe that your team is best suited to recognize and provide the procedure being recommended.   This comes from how well your dental team delivers on demonstrating your technical competence.  Through education and ongoing communication you are able to demonstrate your dental team’s strength and capability.

b. Trust Level 2 – Intent:  The patient must believe that their best interests are at the heart of any recommended procedure made by your team.  They need to know why you are recommending the procedure and that you truly believe it’s in their best interest to proceed.


Once you are able to build a culture that communicates strong specialized expertise (capability) combined with a heartfelt intent to deliver on important results to the patient, you will have a strong restorative referral machine that drives revenue into your dental office. 

There are specific and tangible things each office can be doing to move their ‘Dental Hygiene Experience’ in the right direction.    By intelligently integrating the patient’s physical, intellectual and emotional experience, you can turn your dental hygiene department into an exciting and invigorating aspect of your dental practice.  The dental hygiene visit is often a patients first exposure to you and your team, and as a result, that first impression is the opportunity to build a strong patient base that looks forward to their quarterly or bi-yearly visits and recommends your office every chance they get.  

So….is your dental hygiene department ‘a diamond in the rough’?   Even if your dental hygiene department runs like a well-oiled machine, I challenge you to revisit it from the patients perspective.  Look at all three aspects and continue to adjust and improve.  Continuous improvement after all is the key to long term fulfillment in life! 

I invite you to ‘Meet me in the Boardroom’ where we will be discussing The Dental Hygiene Breakthrough Blueprint.  I will share with you simple strategies that you can apply to your practice that will help you attract more patients, how you can wow them and get them referring.  Send me an email and I will send you all the details!  It will be fun!