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The role dental hygiene leaders play in shifting dental practices from good to great


Dental practice teams have the capacity to create unique synergies and workflows supporting team cohesiveness. This allows for a readiness to accomplish goals and shift teams from good to great. 

During discussions with dental practices, I've found common goals are to provide exceptional patient care and to exceed patient expectations with a unique patient experience. 

We can all agree these are big goals. A fundamental area of the dental practice that can make impactful steps in supporting these types of goals is the hygiene department. When a dental practice fully understands the role and contributions of the hygiene team and prioritizes dental hygiene leadership it can accelerate the accomplishment of big picture goals. 

Registered dental hygienist are providers, ultimately leading their patients to health or keeping their patients engaged and motivated to stay healthy.  If we apply the same principle to the hygiene team, and the dental practice this “lead” role is equally important.  

Some of the key benefits of having a designated hygiene leader to propel a practice forward and elevate patient care include the following.

  • peer to peer support addressing the unique needs of each dental hygienist
  • collaboration in creating and understanding both hygiene team and practice goals 
  • dental hygienists that understand they play a key role in contributing to the success of the dental practice
  • minimized gaps with administrative and clinical team members

 When it comes to supporting the unique needs of the hygiene team, it’s all about understanding team strengths and weaknesses and coming together to build solutions. Having a designated leader skilled at identifying how each person can be part of creating desired results will provide everyone with job fulfillment, and support team retention.

The fast-paced demands of a dental practice can be challenging. When teams make a conscious effort to slow down and collaborate on team goals this can be both exciting and motivating for all. Once goals are set, a hygiene leader can take on the task of meeting with hygienists as a group or individually, to encourage and inspire individuals to continue to be part of making goal attainment happen.

The role of a dental hygienist has evolved over the years and so has the evidence of the oral systemic link.  Dental hygienists are viewed as preventative care specialists that address oral inflammation directly impacting systemic health.  When each hygienist at the practice believes the treatment they provide can be lifesaving, and their knowledge and skills are valued by the practice and their patients, it puts the practice at the forefront of dentistry. A lead hygienist demonstrates daily the importance of identifying patients red flags and risk factors impacting oral and general health. Making this a top priority and focusing on ensuring team members strongly believe they are supporting the patient’s whole health will contribute to exceeding patient care expectations. In the end the relationship and services provided by each hygienist plays a critical role is ensuring the practice is a success

 A dental practice relies on each team member for effective delivery of care. In order to have smooth team member handoffs from clinical to administrative staff everyone needs to understand all roles and responsibilities. This will allow for bridging of gaps between administrative team and the care delivered in dental hygiene operatory, essential for success. This is an area a hygiene leader can focus on, that being, training and awareness to calibrate patient communication verbiage. This will boost team credibility and have positive impact on the patient experience. 

A dental hygiene leader is not necessarily someone with the highest billings, it’s an individual willing to go out of the way to understand their colleagues, keep the team accountable, be open to all possibilities, and have empathy. The desire to learn is a top quality that can allow an individual to build on other skills and grow as a strong leader.  As John F Kennedy  said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other".  As practice owners and practice management prioritize hygiene leadership, it will position dental practices to be at the forefront for leading with greatness when it comes to patient care and their experience. 

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