Did you know.. 75% of restorative care in a practice comes from the hygiene department? This key statistic means that hygiene care is the engine of the office. Without a high-performing hygiene department, clinical care grinds to a halt.
To many owner-dentists, hygiene is written off as a loss leader. Most dentists don’t believe hygiene can make a significant financial contribution to the practice. While great hygiene care is important for patient health, it’s often overlooked when discussing practice financials and business performance.
Throughout our experience working with practices, we know that hygiene can (and should) be a robust, profitable part of every practice. Moreover, patients deserve world-class hygiene care. They deserve to be cared for by providers that understand the latest oral health research and have high-quality preventive care options available to them.
When a few key steps are taken to elevate the hygiene department, the patient experience improves and overall practice performance rises at an astonishing rate.
Shift #1: Embrace the 3 Crucial Roles of Hygiene in the Care of Patients
Hygiene care used to be narrowly defined as keeping teeth clean so they could be restored. Today, with the latest research, technology, and resources, hygienists have the opportunity to bring so much more to the table. Patients also have more access to care and information. If patients don’t get the level of care they want, they’ll simply go elsewhere.
To raise the standard of care and give patients what they want, hygienists need to embrace 3 important roles in patient health:
#1: Preventive Therapist: A hygienist should be a source of information to patients about preventative care. To do this, hygienists need to be up-to-date on the latest research and be able to communicate recommended preventative care options to all patients. Appropriate options should be presented to patients based on need and risk and never be dictated by insurance, age, income, or other factors unrelated to their need.
#2: Periodontal Therapist: Put simply, patients are at a much greater risk for infection and disease if periodontal health is left unaddressed. It’s the responsibility of the hygienist to educate patients on perio therapy and the oral-systemic link. Additionally, if periodontal disease is left undiscussed with patients, the practice opens itself up to lawsuits. It’s vital to protect patients and protect the business by training hygienists on the best perio care.
#3: Patient Treatment Advocate: Hygienists play an essential role in restorative dentistry. When patients are presented with needed restorative care, hygienists can help answer questions, alleviate concerns, and encourage patients to accept the care they need. When hygienists advocate for greater patient health, case acceptance rises and patient health improves.
When these 3 roles are embraced and practiced each day, patients get the comprehensive care they deserve and are given more choice and autonomy in their healthcare decisions.
Shift #2: Track Key Preventative Services
Many patients come through offices needing additional preventative services, but those services aren’t always offered or discussed. Even if they are mentioned, many providers don’t thoroughly educate patients on the benefits of these therapies. This not only does a disservice to the health of the patients and robs them of real choice, it also puts the performance and future of the practice in jeopardy.
You’ll often hear us say at The Team Training Institute, “What gets measured, gets improved.” By tracking preventative services, teams can see where opportunity exists and make improvements.
So, here are 3 key metrics to track:
Adult Fluoride Acceptance Rate: Most practices have a fluoride acceptance rate under 10%. Every patient benefits from fluoride, adults and children alike, so we recommend aiming for a minimum of 80% acceptance. With the right patient education and system in place, our coaching clients usually see 90%-95% acceptance of adult fluoride treatments.
Sealant Acceptance Rate: Most practices aren’t placing sealants at nearly the rate that patients need them. Regardless of age or insurance, if a tooth would benefit from a sealant, it should be presented to the patient. A realistic goal for many of our coaching clients is 4 sealants per day per hygienist.
Bonded De-Sensitizing Acceptance Rate: Sensitivity is one of the most common complaints heard from patients (85% of adults report significant tooth sensitivity). Since sensitivity is so prevalent, hygienists should be providing a bonded agent that both seals and protects the vulnerable Class V area where the recession has occurred.
*Keep in mind, increasing production for its own sake is never the primary goal. These services should be offered only when they make sense for the health of the patient. An increase in production is the result of doing the right thing for the patient. When providers deliver world-class service and present meaningful treatment recommendations, production naturally increases to everyone’s benefit.
Shift #3: Have More In-Depth Conversations with Patients About Their Care
There are 2 primary ways to build trust with patients: personally and professionally.
Most hygienists do a great job connecting with patients on a personal level. They’ll ask about their family, their friends, their jobs, and upcoming vacations. The piece that’s often missing is the development of professional trust. The more hygienists explain their processes, talk through oral health risks, and educate the patient, the more trust is built professionally.
Hygienists can make great strides with patients by shifting the conversation toward dentistry more often. While it’s important to still connect with patients on a personal level, dentistry should encompass the majority of the conversation.
This gives providers additional opportunity to engage with patients on any concerns they have with their teeth. For instance, many patients are frustrated at the frequency of cavities they have, even though they are working hard to brush and floss. The more hygienists participate in these kinds of conversations, the higher the acceptance rate they’ll have when presenting preventative solutions.
Probing is a great way to start a conversation like this. Probing is a vital part of an exam, but it doesn’t always include a conversation designed to educate the patient.
It goes something like this, “I’m going to check your tissues for infection. This helps us detect any problems or disease in your gums. You will hear me saying a series of numbers for each tooth, and Chelsea is going to record the findings for us. A 1-3 means that the tissue is healthy, a 4 means there is infection. A 5 indicates that the infection has already spread to the bone.”
This is a great way to help the patient understand any risk or need for treatment. Now, if they hear any 4’s or 5’s, they immediately understand the problem and are more willing to get it taken care of. With this mindset, patients don’t feel like they’re being “sold” something they don’t need, but rather being offered a solution to a problem.
Shift #4: If Any Treatment is Needed, Try to Do it Same Day
Patients are busy. It’s hard enough for patients to make time for their cleanings, let alone additional treatment.
As much as possible, embrace same-day care in your practice. The convenience will create an immediate boost in case acceptance and allow patients to move forward with the care they need.
If you’re not set up to do same-day treatment, sealants are a great place to start. Sealants are the #1 canceled or failed appointment, so whenever possible, place sealants the same day they’re diagnosed.
The best way to do this? Plan ahead. Have sealant setups in each operatory ready to go. Just 10 Ziploc baggies is all it takes. Put anything you’ll need to use for sealants that isn’t in your normal setup in those baggies. Then, the moment you see the potential for sealants all you have to do to get set up is open the drawer and pull out the baggie. You’ll also want easy access to a curing light.
Note: Half of the time wasted in dentistry is spent running around trying to find what is needed to get a procedure done. If you set it up in advance and have materials ready in each hygiene operatory, you’ll save several minutes each time.
Another great tool: Radios.
Radios are a small, easy investment that make a huge difference in same-day sealants. Simply put a little earbud in your ear, clip a microphone to your jacket, and slide the radio pack in your lab jacket pocket. Then, if you don’t have a curing light in your operatory, for example, all you have to do is grab your lapel and say, “Hey can someone bring a curing light to Hygiene 3?”
Radios also allow for more seamless communication with parents of kids who need sealants. Team members can ask for help bringing parents into the room and getting insurance estimates, creating a smoother, easier appointment for everyone while doing more needed treatment.
With a few simple preparations, same-day procedures can become a normal part of the practice, resulting in big boosts in patient care and production. We did the math and just 4 sealants per day per hygienist results in an annual increase of $35,000 for each hygienist (and when they’re set up for success, most hygienists do more than 4). In this way, small changes can create huge results.
We put together a free report that explains all 3 roles of hygiene in depth and more ways you can transform your hygiene care. Click here to download your copy.