Alignment – Not Just For Tires

By Kathryn Gilliam, RDH, BA

Most multiple hygienist practices know that the hygienists need to calibrate their probe measurement techniques in order to be consistent for those patients who see more than one hygienist. But have you taken the time to calibrate the other aspects of hygiene practice?

When I was a brand new dental hygienist I was fortunate to join a practice with a much more experienced dental hygienist. That hygienist took the time to discuss with me the parameters by which she judged the health of her patients’ gum tissues. We quickly discovered that we were closely aligned philosophically, and never had issues when a patient saw the other hygienist. (Thank you, Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH.) Our evaluations and our recommendations were consistent and we never heard comments like, “The other hygienist never told me that I have gum disease.”

Fast forward twenty-plus years later, and I’m one of five dental hygienists on my team. We regularly meet to make sure our messages to our patients are congruent and that we’re all in agreement with the point at which we believe it’s time to do something different than a “regular prophy.”

As a coach and consultant, I have encountered numerous situations where multiple hygienist offices have multiple different practice philosophies. Each hygienist operates as she believes is in the best interest of her patients, not realizing that when that patient sees a different hygienist in the office, they may hear a completely different message. One hygienist may recommend rinsing with an over the counter mouth wash while another feels strongly that the alcohol content and other chemicals in over the counter rinses are not beneficial for the patient. Even worse, one may comment that she is noticing “a little bleeding” while the other voices real concern that any bleeding indicates inflammation which is potentially harmful for the systemic health of the patient and should be addressed immediately.

When patients receive mixed messages from your office, your team loses credibility in the patients’ eyes. The patient will not feel confident in any of the recommendations because they are not consistent. I even observed one patient stating, “Y’all need to get your story straight,” when he received different product recommendations from two different hygienists on the same team. (Yes, this was in Texas.)

Practice success starts with the entire hygiene team becoming aligned philosophically. One of the first things I do when I coach a hygiene team is to help them develop their philosophy of care. Often the hygienists are surprised to learn the differences they have in diagnostic parameters and treatment recommendations. Without focused intention to align the entire hygiene team, it can be easy to do things your own way, without realizing that the others on your team are doing things differently. Taking the time to discuss your hygiene team philosophy of care will create a team that is effective and patients who are confident in your diagnosis and treatment recommendations.


Contributor:

Kathryn Gilliam’s interest in the medical side of dentistry led her to years of advanced study into the oral-systemic link, including graduating from the prestigious Bale Doneen Preceptorship. Her company, PerioLinks, LLC, was born out of her desire to train dental teams to transform their practices to care for the total health of their patients through comprehensive periodontal treatment.

 

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