Maximizing the Production Potential of Your Hygiene Department

Learn how to maximize the potential of your hygiene department by maximizing the three roles the hygiene staff play in a successful hygiene department.

Updated 6/30/20

Over the years, I have seen many practices struggle to effectively navigate the difficult waters of running a dental office. Recently, it seems that an alarming number of practices are having serious challenges staying on course. However, when I look at the practices that are flourishing, they all have a few key things in common. One of those strengths always seems to be an effective and productive hygiene department.

Although it may seem that consistently achieving high productivity in your hygiene department is a fantasy, there are strategies that can help you to realize success. Start by taking a close look at how you’re using your hygiene staff. If you want to maximize the production potential of your hygiene department, you need to maximize the role of your hygienists. In a successful hygiene department, the hygienist should be acting in the following three roles:

  1. Preventive Therapist
  2. Periodontal Therapist
  3. Patient Treatment Advocate

The Preventive Therapist

Too often we assume that if insurance doesn’t cover a certain preventive procedure, the patient will not want it. The truth is that patients who consistently struggle with chronic decay have a very high level of frustration. They do not want cavities, they are tired of always having problems with their teeth, and they are very interested in preventive options.

Dental hygienists have the significant responsibility to focus on the prevention of disease because they are the only dental health professionals who are given the primary role of prevention. Yet, too often this role is minimized by reducing hygienists to a maid of the mouth–they’ll clean, but that’s about it. A hygienist who is maximizing her role as a preventive therapist is pro-active in presenting preventive therapies to patients. She talks with patients about preventive services like fluoride, sealants, desensitizing agents, radiographs, chemi-luminescent oral cancer screenings, and many others. She utilizes CAMBRA (Caries Management by Risk Assessment) as a key to help patients prevent the infection of decay and to build value for preventive services.

You can help your hygiene staff to begin conducting risk assessments by using clinical note templates. You can create a template that walks the practitioner through the CAMBRA survey and then logs the patient’s response in the clinical notes. To create a template, open the Patient Chart and click View > Panels > Clinical Notes. Click the Template Setup button on the Clinical Notes Template toolbar and then click New Template to display the New Clinical Note Template dialog box.

Add the template to the Hygiene category and then give it a name. You can type the text of the note, allowing space for the hygienist to manually type the responses. Or if you’d like to automate the note to display the survey questions as prompts, you’ll want to set up a series of Clinical Note Prompts. Once you’ve finished setting up the text and prompts for the note, click OK to save the template.

The Periodontal Therapist

Many consultants and hygiene speakers focus heavily on periodontal therapy as it is a critical component in the work of a dental hygienist. But despite this encouragement, offices continue to perform periodontal procedures but call them preventive services. You can easily find out whether you’re maximizing the hygienists role as a periodontal therapist by running a procedure code audit. In your audit you’ll want to review the number of periodontal procedures you’ve completed in a year and compare the percentage of preventive codes used (D1110, D1120, and so forth) with the percentage of periodontal codes used (D4910, D4341, and D4342).

To see this information, you’ll need to run the Production Summary Report in Dentrix. Because you’ll want to compare two different kinds of procedures, you’ll need to run the report twice. First, you’ll run the report to see your preventive procedures. From the Office Manager, click Reports > Management > Practice Analysis Reports to display the Practice Analysis Reports dialog box. Set the Date Range to show you the past 12 months. Select the Production Summary report option and then click …by Proc Code Range. Set the code range to begin with code D1110 and end with code D1120. After you print this report, run the report a second time using the code range beginning with D4341 and ending with code D4910.

I encourage practices to perform an audit to gain a clear picture of where they stand with their periodontal standard of care. It is human nature to think we are performing at a much higher level than where we are actually performing. These audits help us erase our perceptions and focus on the reality of how we are serving patients. From there, we can adjust and make necessary improvements. If we are truly maximizing potential in our role as a Periodontal Therapist, we are seeing periodontal disease, talking about it, and treating it.

The Patient Treatment Advocate

The hygiene staff often underestimate what a critical role they have in helping patients make choices about the dentistry they need. How many times do patients turn to the hygienist, or another clinical team member, to ask,“Do I really need to have this done?” or “How long can I wait before I get this taken care of?” Patients want the team’s opinion and recommendations when it comes to the choices they have about treatment.

You can help your hygiene staff to embrace this role by training them to incorporate technology that will help them answer these questions. The Dentrix Presenter is an extremely effective tool in providing patient education and treatment recommendations.

The Presenter allows you to create patient education slideshows to assist in teaching your patients about hygiene and treatment options. You can access the Presenter from the Patient Chart by clicking the Presenter button on the Chart Module toolbar. From the Presenter window you can create a presentation that includes images, X-rays, and patient education pictures and videos.

As a patient treatment advocate, the hygienist needs good verbal communication skills, should know how to ask the right questions, and should ultimately help the patient decide which option is best. Presenting treatment and having the patient choose better dentistry can be incredibly gratifying. As your hygiene staff act in their three vital roles, they’ll find that it is extremely rewarding to see a hygiene department begin to steadily increase its productivity. As you offer a higher level of service and give your patients the opportunity to choose their standard of care, the production will take care of itself. Hygienists will become re-energized and incredibly confident in their ability to impact someone’s life for the better. As this happens, you’ll find the entire practice is able to leverage the impact. Navigating the challenging waters of dental practice today becomes easier when you have a productive hygiene department.


Learn More

To learn more, see “Creating clinical note templates,” “Practice Analysis Reports,” and “Adding a case presentation item” in the Dentrix Help.

Read “The Value of Your Dental Hygiene Team” for other ideas about increasing hygiene production.

Sign up for a free 30-minute practice assessment to get advice about your KPIs from an experienced Dentrix business advisor. Visit https://www.dentrix.com/products/dentrix-profitability-coaching for more information.


By Wendy Briggs, President and CEO of The Team Training Institute

Wendy Briggs, RDH, is president and CEO of The Team Training Institute, a worldwide practice management consulting firm which excels in increasing entire practice profitability and improving oral hygiene systems. Her trademarked Whitening for Lifeâ„¢ program has proven successful in more than 21 countries. Wendy is also a partner with Dr. John Meis in The Team Training Institute, a training and consulting organization that has helped more than 1,200 practices worldwide achieve their goals. Wendy lectures internationally, she is a contributing educator for the Dawson Academy, and she works as a recommended hygiene consultant for Henry Schein.

Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Spring 2014