Understanding the Hygienist’s Expertise

It’s important to consider your hygienists as autonomous skilled professionals independent from your management. Of course, as the leader you must provide guidance, but you should still defer to their training in their specific field.

A Hygienist’s Expertise

This is one of the hardest parts about managing a team – letting go of the reigns a little. But you don’t have to entertain a free for all to provide some freedom. If a hygienist has made it clear to you that they have both clinical and behavioral skills, then it’s your job to open up a dialogue.

You should discuss with them what you will individually bring to an exam. Find out what they feel comfortable recognizing and diagnosing, that way you can both be on the same page. Don’t rely on the antiquated belief that hygienists only know how to recognize. They are also fully capable of diagnostic techniques.

In hygiene school, they will have thoroughly reviewed the signs and symptoms of multiple conditions. But for them, their education tends toward directing them to call the problem to the dentist’s attention.

The key to all of this is to only offer advice in your area of expertise. That goes for both hygienists and dentists. As with most things, individuals vary. Dentists and hygienists will have different qualifications, therefore providing different perspectives in the practice. No matter our level, we must offer our opinions as opinions and be willing to listen to the thoughts of others.

Diagnosing versus recognizing comes down to semantics, while both are very different from the actual treatment planning designed by the clinician. It’s a hygienist’s responsibility to serve the patient’s needs to the best of their ability based on their skill level and judgement.

What do you consider a hygienist’s purview in the dental practice? We’d like to know what you think! 

Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

Mary Osborne RDH

2 thoughts on “Understanding the Hygienist’s Expertise

  • December 5, 2018 at 1:43 pm
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    Finally !!! Over the years I have been fortunate to hire and work for some outstanding hygienists.
    They were so critical to building an effective dental home for our patient/clients. Not only were they smarter and better communicators than I, they could create such strong bonds of trust with people, that patients were open in our conversations about their health and opportunities to help them achieve a higher level of “wellness”.
    I don’t believe that this would have happened had our hygienists felt like they were not free to listen freely and communicate their “diagnoses” with the patients. It’s about time to shed the old paradigms and let our hygienists carry out the work of which they are capable! .

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  • Mary Osborne
    December 10, 2018 at 8:17 pm
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    So glad you have “worked for” great hygienists, Gary! Developing a partnership between the dentist, the hygienist, and the patient is a powerful support to patients over time. We each have information, experiences, and perspectives that can provide valuable insight about the best course of treatment and care.

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