June 15, 2023

How to Keep Your Hygienist Happy

Jennifer LaRocca, RDH, Hygiene Coach
Whether we like it or not, the work environment for dental offices has changed from what it was a decade ago. Among the changes are the baseline expectations and aspirations of dental employees, especially hygienists.

The job market for hygienists has never been this competitive and success requires a fundamental shift in mindset on the part of dental practice owners. Let’s talk about what that looks like.

Partner with Your Hygienist

About 70% of dental services come through the hygiene chair, so if you’re not already, you should start treating your hygienist like your partner. They play an essential role in your practice. A hygienist-driven operation leads to more informed patients and better patient care which translates into a more productive practice.

According to the world’s most famous hygienist, Wendy Briggs, your hygienist plays three different roles in your practice, each of which adds dollars to your bottom line:

  • Preventative therapist – treatments for fluoride, Rx toothpaste, etc.
  • Perio therapist – being able to diagnose and effectively communicate the importance of following through on treatment, plus additional services such as laser or chemical medicaments.
  • Patient treatment advocate – comfortable discussing dental treatment options with the patient before the dentist enters the room.

A valuable hygienist customizes care for the patient and knows how to tee-up the dentist for a comprehensive diagnosis. For instance, a patient may have existing treatment they never scheduled. The hygienist is an additional resource to discuss the need for this treatment and explore the patient’s motivations or reasons for delaying treatment. In addition to potential periodontal disease, hygienists can spot early warning signs of wear or restorative breakdown and have conversations around those findings before the dentist steps into the room. With advanced training, a hygienist actually serves as a co-diagnostician – a true partner. In addition to providing better patient care, these services benefit the entire practice as a whole.

Look at Your Hygienist as a Good Investment

When a hygienist asks for more money than you are comfortable paying, it may open the door to a new approach. In the current market, hygienists command a significantly higher income than they did just a few years ago. This increase has been difficult for dental practices to absorb in the short term. One option that could make it more manageable is to adopt a hybrid model for compensation. Allow the hygienist to earn more by giving them an opportunity to share in the production if they clear a certain threshold of collections. With this approach, your hygienist has an incentive to increase their own production and by basing the bonus on collections, you’re using “real money” rather than production dollars that you don’t yet have in your pocket.

Tips for Hiring Hygienist

If you’re looking for a hygienist, you’re going to need to sell your practice as a great place to work. When placing an ad, be sure to include all the reasons someone would want to join your team. Don’t forget to talk about your mission and values. More than ever, people are looking for a job that’s meaningful, so talk about why you’re passionate about changing lives through dentistry. If you support a nonprofit, engage in community work, or sponsor community events, say so. When interviewing hygienists, be sure to explain where you want the practice to be in five years and how you see the hygienist as an essential partner in your vision. Remember to ask about their goals, and if they’re interested in advanced training, give some thought to whether that’s something you will support financially.

Positive Office Culture Benefits Everyone

Research shows that office culture is one of the top reasons people choose to stay in a job, and hygienists are no exception. Creating a work environment where people like their coworkers, enjoy some autonomy and feel respected is important. Getting everyone to believe in and work towards a shared vision is another reason employees may choose to stay at a job. Schedule flexibility is also a big plus, although that can be more difficult to achieve at a smaller practice.

Even if you can’t deliver on everything your employees want, the key is to be open to input and committed to continuous improvement. It’s hard to put a price on how much employees appreciate feeling valued and listened to.

Keeping your hygiene team happy and productive is one of the best ways to increase revenue. If you have questions, about how to build a thriving dental practice, contact our team at Engage Advisors. We combine industry expertise with business knowledge to help your practice achieve the success you deserve.