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Who Are Your Vital Dental Team Players?

Posted Jan 28 2011 12:02am

The following is a guest post by Debbie Seidel-Bittke. If you are interested in guest posting for Dental Heroes, please sign up here .

One area of the dental practice that can drive referrals and is the second highest profit center of your dental practice is the hygiene department. The hygiene department should produce over 30% of the total office production. All systems must be in place for this productivity and profitability to occur.

The hygiene team has a key role in supporting the practice by adding value to the patient appointment. This occurs through communication and education of the dental hygiene patient. The hygiene team; hygienists and hygiene assistants, are the people who will make recommendations to the doctor, educate patients about home care and the advancements in dentistry. These are the team members who educate patients about procedures and products available to improve their overall general health.

Patients see the hygienist and interact with the hygiene team on a regular- routine basis. This is a perfect opportunity for patients to spend quality time during their dental hygiene appointment and we can easily add value to their services. During the hygiene appointment, when the hygiene team effectively communicates the value of the hygiene appointment, a positive rapport will be developed between members of the dental hygiene team and the patients. The end-result is that patients will want to continue a long-term relationship with the dental practice. When the hygiene team is providing optimal care, there will be improved case-acceptance, increased productivity and profitability for the dental practice.

1. Value-ad dental hygiene appointments
2. Customized patient schedule
3. Communicate oral health and systemic relationship (Educate)
4. Provide home-care products
5. Implement same day services (Whitening impressions, fluoride varnish, night guard impressions, etc.)

Words can paint a thousand pictures. Too many dental offices still use words such as “cleaning” and “recall” when communicating with patients about the dental hygiene appointment. What words do you currently use when speaking to patients about their dental hygiene appointment? The words you use to describe or speak about dental treatment will either add value or devalue their appointment and treatment. Prophylaxis isn’t the only service that dental hygienists provide in today’s’ world of dentistry. The hygiene appointment is more than a “cleaning”. The hygiene appointment includes many types of services which may include a blood pressure screening, smile analysis, periodontal screening exam, oral cancer screening, salivary pH, biofilm assessment, xerostomia, caries risk assessment (CAMBRA), scaling and root planing, nitrous oxide sedation, limited restorative dentistry, polishing, antimicrobial treatments, impressions, radiographs, etc. The dental hygiene appointment should always include patient education and post operative instructions when necessary.

At your next team meeting, agree to change the vocabulary you will use with patients. Write down a list of the words that you plan to use when communicating with your patients. Add a list of these words for your team-training manual. This helps everyone can refer to this information as necessary and new employees are trained with current vocabulary words your dental practice uses. Notice how your patients will now begin speaking the same language.

Years ago, the dental hygiene appointment was an “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” type of appointment. Today’s successful dental hygiene appointment provides customized, specific appointment times for the specific treatment needs of each patient. When the dental practice utilizes a customized schedule for patient, treatment, the practice profits will increase and the patients receive optimal care.

Customize your appointment schedule by using 10-minute units. The practice can now comfortably accommodate: 10-minute post-op care, periodic oral hygiene assessments with fluoride treatments, delivery of whitening trays, 20- minute appointments for impressions or CAMBRA protocols, 30-minute preventive care appointments (adults, with missing teeth and little to no stain, children under 10 yrs of age with no calculus, etc.); 40-minute appointments (patients with excellent oral health, little calculus, no stain and no x-rays or exam); 50-minute appointments (preventive care patients with more calculus or a lot of stain. Patients that need x-rays and exams); and 60-minute appointments (scaling and root planning and more difficult periodontal maintenance appointments which also include x-rays and exam. (Those patients who need antimicrobial therapy.) The same type of schedule is customized for the dentist with regard to restorative, cosmetic, implant, oral surgery and endodontic procedures. It only a suggested prototype to set up for your dental hygiene department. Each professional will most likely need to be consulted to make certain they feel comfortable with these appointment time limitations.

Adding value to the dental hygiene appointment will not only inspire patients to continue returning for dental appointments in your dental practice but will allow you to provide optimal care. This systematic process is critical for the dental practice’ future productivity and profitability. It also means you keep the patients coming through the front door of your dental practice. This is how dental practice growth occurs. Using the appropriate vocabulary with patients as well as putting these words into scripts will build value for each appointment throughout the entire patient experience. Case acceptance improves with this one system in place.

We know for many decades now, that periodontal disease is at epidemic levels. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, approximately 80% of the population has gingival or periodontal disease.1 Most patients are unaware of periodontal disease due to it’s’ often painless nature. This is one of various diseases that will be detected and patients still decline your diagnosis. Why does this happen? The answer is because patients don’t feel pain. They may experience bleeding gums but this has been occurring for numerous years and they now consider this “normal“ for their mouth.

The solution to this challenge is to educate patients about the science, which corresponds to good oral health improving their overall health. Explain and give patients the scientific literature (explain the research) so they understand the importance of good oral health. The hygiene team is responsible for educating patients about their oral health and its relationship to overall health. When patients understand that untreated periodontal disease can have a negative affect on their overall health, they will now be interested in the information and more likely to schedule their necessary treatment. Periodontal assessment, combined with education, will provide patients the necessary information to improve their overall health. CAMBRA (Caries Management by Risk Assessment) is the same type of strategy. We know how to prevent decay. Current CAMBRA research identifies how to assess for a patients risk for decay. The focus is now on preventing decay not about treating the disease.

Continued and improved oral health starts with the patient at home. There are various products patients can use to improve their oral health. Some of these include oral irrigators, power toothbrushes, Xylitol mints and gum, fluoride gels, non-alcohol-natural oral rinses and toothpastes, etc., etc. Providing these home care products will provide patients added value by your dental practice because you will educate them how to use the product while they are in the office. When you dispense the appropriate products in the dental office, you provide patients with a resource for information and a specific place to go for immediate use of the product replacement of these when necessary. We want our patients to come to us and understand that we are the dental experts. Patients should not be going to the local drug store and ask a sales person what toothpaste, mouth rinse or oral irrigator, etc., is best to buy. We are their health care provider and we are the expert who understands what is best for their specific oral health condition. When our patients leave the dental office with their home care products, they are most likely to immediately begin follow through with their home care regimen.

When you have home care products easily available for your patients, you will notice patients not only appreciate your knowledge about how to improve their oral health, but they are happy that you made it convenient for them to purchase. When patients leave the office with the appropriate home care products, they will be more likely to use the recommended product. This is just one of the ways we can assist patients to improve their overall health.

Once you have a customized patient appointment schedule, you can strategize (also discuss in the daily team huddle) to offer same-day services. One example of this is found through patients completeing the smile analysis. Because you have a questionnaire to discover what areas of the oral cavity are important to your patient, you can make some easy recommendations, which may take only a few extra minutes to

create a positive appearance and/or experience for your patient. If you understand that your patient wants whiter teeth at the beginning of the appointment, after doctor examines the patient, someone from the office (either a dental assistant or a hygiene assistant) can take the impressions and schedule the patient to return to pick up whitening trays, the gel and the homecare instructions. This saves time for the patient returning foranother appointment to take impressions and another appointment for delivery of the whitening appliance and solution.

Same day services are also helpful for patients who are categorized as moderate to extremely high risk for caries. These patients will quite possibly receive a salivary pH or biofilm assessment, review of home care and a fluoride varnish treatment. These services can very easily be administered the same day the patient is in the chair for their hygiene appointment. These are just two examples of same-day services.

These services save time for patients returning for an additional appointment and add to the daily production of the dental hygiene department. These same-day services can very simply add another $50,000.00 + US dollars to the dental practice annually.

The hygiene team is a vital part of all successful dental practices. The dental hygiene department is one of the critical components for every successful dental practice. When you implement these suggestions, the hygiene team will develop strong relationships with patients. The patients will believe in and value your team and the dental practice. When you communicate the awareness of prevention, add products to improve health and offer time saving, same-day services, you will improve the level of patient care. Once the patients understand this, you will reap the benefits by receiving new-patient referrals, increase productivity and profitability.

How is your Hygiene Department adding value for your practice?

Reference: 1. Accessed on Jan. 15, 2011.

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