The Importance of Culture in Dental Hygiene


The Importance of Culture in Dental Hygiene

CDP hygienist giving a young patient a high-five.

Dentistry is a team sport. Hygienists are key players on that team, providing essential healthcare and disease prevention for patients. As a hygienist, you’ll frequently be the main point of contact between patients and the practice. You’ll also spend more time in the chair working on patients than anyone else in the building. That can be incredibly taxing, and you need a work environment that can help keep you energized and engaged. That’s why the culture of the practice where you work is essential to your success in dental hygiene.

Emotional Demands of the Job

Hygienists are tasked more than any other clinicians with maintaining relationships and emotional connections with patients. As a hygienist, you’ll spend more time in the chair with each patient and get to know the patients better than anyone else in the building. You have the opportunity to connect with patients on a more personal level and can truly set the tone for their visit.

Many times, hygiene is a patient’s first treatment procedure in the practice. For patients with dental phobia or anxiety, that means you can make or break their long-term relationship with the practice as a whole. Taking a moment at the beginning of a patient’s first appointment to talk about their comfort level and fears can set them up for success in future cleanings as well as any restorative work they may need. It can also help them feel more eager to accept treatment recommendations from the doctor.

Hygienist sitting chairside with young female patient.

You might need to counsel your patients on their fears. That means knowing how to really listen to their concerns, letting them know you take their worries seriously, and giving them effective coping strategies. You will need to be patient and prevent the feeling of being rushed, even as that clock ticks down to your next patient waiting in the lobby!

Many patients might come to you crabby or rude to cover their anxiety. They might snap or lash out at you when they’re upset about something that has nothing to do with you. Hygienists need to be prepared to take on enormous emotional responsibility for their patients. And that can be exhausting!

Dental Hygiene Can Be Physically Challenging

Hygienists are the production centers of most dental practices and are key to the overall health of a practice. And yet, hygienists get burnt out faster than maybe any other member of the dental team. As a hygienist, you will spend more time in the chair actively working on patients than even the dentist. Hygienists are at higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, neck and back pain, and other bodily strains. 

For some hygienists, the job can start to feel tedious after a time. You may see anywhere from eight to ten patients per day on average. In the wrong practice culture, the repetition of seeing patient after patient can become mind-numbing and leave you feeling dissatisfied and begrudging your job. Couple that with physical fatigue, and it’s no wonder hygienists can end up feeling burned out!

Staying focused and energized throughout your day as a hygienist can be a challenge. Working in the right practice with a great culture makes all the difference. With the right team and the right support, you can enjoy a long and successful career as a hygienist. Most importantly, a great practice culture can give you the emotional energy to change your patients’ lives.

What Makes a Great Culture for a Dental Hygiene Career?

Dentist working on young patient's teeth with hygienist standing by,

Feeling supported at work makes a huge difference in your day, regardless of your job description. However, teamwork becomes especially important for hygienists. Practices with great culture will emphasize open communication and teamwork. Working for a practice that pits assistants against hygienists, for example, can be draining and breed negativity. 

In a great practice, you’ll feel comfortable communicating with your team, whether that means the doctors, assistants, or administrative staff. Knowing your concerns will be heard and acknowledged without escalating conflict will help you feel empowered and invested in your role. Likewise, working somewhere with great overall energy can help you maintain your own positive attitude throughout the day.

Our cultural pillars help us stay focused on maintaining a great work environment. Culture is king here at CDP. We emphasize values like humility, honesty, and communication because these qualities help forge close bonds between team members. Mutual support across all aspects of the team can help everyone’s day run more smoothly and help us all achieve a better work-life balance. Most importantly, great culture serves our patients by keeping our dental hygiene team engaged in their work and emotionally available to the person in their chair. In fact, great dental office culture has been found to improve patient safety!

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How to Look for a Good Cultural Fit in Dental Hygiene

Whether it’s your first hygiene job or you’re looking for a more positive work environment, you’ll want to know how to tell whether a practice has a positive culture to help your work-life become more fulfilling. Here are a few key questions and things to look for to find a great cultural fit.

  • Will I be able to request help with charting or placing sealants? This question can give you an indication of how much support you might find across departments in the practice. Obviously, an assistant may not always be available but knowing you can ask for help when needed goes a long way to prevent overwhelm.

  • How does the practice respond to high-needs patients? Can I request extra time for high anxiety patients or those who need nitrous for cleanings? Hygienists need to be able to work efficiently. You’ll need to stay on schedule to keep up with your set number of appointments per day and provide excellent treatment quality as well. 

  • Does your practice use a sharpening service, or will I have time to sharpen my instruments? How often are old instruments replaced? As we already discussed, hygiene can be very hard on your body. Working with ancient, dull instruments can injure your hands and compromise your career longevity. Practices that understand the value of their hygienists will invest in instruments and equipment to support the hygiene team. 

  • How involved will I be in building hygiene treatment plans for my patients? For the most part, hygiene treatment plans may be straightforward. At the new patient exam, your dentist may go ahead and recommend a standard prophy and things proceed along a standard path. For more complicated cases such as advanced periodontal disease, having some input into the hygiene plan can mean a lot. Not only will it allow you to ensure you have adequate time for appropriate treatment. It can also help you feel recognized for your expertise as a hygienist, which means your team values a culture of mutual respect.

The culture in your workplace can make or break your day-to-day life. Finding a dental office with great culture and clear values can make your life as a hygienist truly fulfilling. Schedule a call with a Recruiting Manager to learn more about dental hygienist career opportunities at CDP!

Alyssa Schuler
Alyssa Schuler Clinical Recruiter Community Dental Partners

Alyssa Schuler has a history in the dental industry for over seven years. She started out as a Dental Hygienist where she found her passion for promoting oral health and love for forging relationships with patients.

She earned her Associate's Degree in Dental Hygiene in South Carolina. She then went on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Integrative Healthcare Studies from Ohio University.

Alyssa desired to keep growing, learning, and taking on new challenges, which led her to Community Dental Partners. She saw her role as a clinical recruiter as the best way to reach the most patients. Being an intricate part of finding the best culturally and patient-focused doctors to give quality access to care on a much larger scale is important to her.

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