While every dental practice runs differently, the basics of daily operations as a dental hygienist are somewhat standard. Our main goal should always be to provide the highest quality of care to our patients.
As a dental hygienist in a busy family dental practice here is a candid glimpse of my day. This is primarily just an overview and does not include the details that are actually involved in the hygiene appointments. This is a general family practice. Pediatric and periodontal practices may run differently as well as any accelerated (assisted) hygiene offices.
8:00 AM – I arrive into work, clock in, set my room up for my 1st patient of the day and quickly grab my charts for the day. Charts for each provider (Dentist and Hygienist) are pulled by a front office employee so they are always ready for me when I get there. I get to the break room to quickly review my charts for the day and get them ready for the daily morning meeting.
8:10 AM – The meeting begins! Our large office team piles into our undersized break room and each RDH and RDA go through their schedule for the day so every member can be aware of the business of the day.
I go through each patient and let the Dentists know who will be due for exams, who needs x-rays, if they have pending dental treatment, outstanding balances, need for premedication, or any other issues that need to be addressed. We also review the production numbers from the previous business day and then read the company mission statement.
8:30 AM – Time to bring back my 1st patient of the day from the waiting room. I have 50 minutes scheduled because all x-rays are current and the patient is not due for a periodic dental exam. I welcome my patient into my operatory and do a quick update on medical/dental history, take blood pressure and address any chief complaints.
IF there are no complaints we move forward with the routine dental cleaning. This appointment goes smoothly! Nonsmoker, very little tarter, no health issues, great way to start the day! I set the recall appointment for the patient to return in 6 months, take their payment for treatment and walk them out. I finish the patient by 9:20, clean my room, and set up for patient #2.
9:25 AM – Patient was 5 minutes late, but no big deal, they are also current on all x-rays and exams and should only be due for their routine cleaning appointment. Repeat all steps from 1st patient, medical/dental history reviewed, blood pressure taken, address chief complaints…. Oh wait, this time there IS a chief complaint! The routine adult prophy appointment just turned into needing an x-ray, intra oral camera pictures, and dental exam.
10:35 AM– Now I am 25 minutes late into my next appointment. Some patients are much more understanding when the schedule gets crazy and I am running behind… others, not so much! I have 70 minutes scheduled for this patient that will include the 3-month periodontal maintenance, full mouth probe chart, 4 digital bitewings, and a dental exam. After the dental exam, I enter into the computer any diagnosed treatment and review the treatment plan and fees with the patient. I will most likely continue running late until we reach the shortest hour of the entire day…lunch!
11:30 AM – I have somewhat gotten myself back on schedule, not running TOO late! My last patient before lunch is not one that I have seen before. As with all patients there is a “get to know you” period where relationships are built.
With my returning patients that I have seen for years it is great to be able to briefly catch up with each other a couple times of year. With new patients I do my very best to make them feel comfortable and usually try to find something we have in common to discuss.
At this appointment I will take a complete set of radiographs, take intra-oral cameral pictures, have the dentist do a complete oral evaluation, and do a thorough prophylaxis.
12:30 PM – LUNCH! That much needed break in the day to get yourself ready for the afternoon that you know may be just a crazy as the morning – or not? The schedule can be very unpredictable and as patients cancel, choose not to show up, or the hygiene coordinator chooses to “work” someone in!
1:30 PM – Round 2! New patient again, age 4… this should be interesting! I find that when I get myself prepared for the worst then the situation is usually more pleasant than I expected. This little guy did great! Time for a no cavity club picture after his excellent job with the child prophy, fluoride treatment, x-rays, and dental exam. Shockingly now, I am complete before my next patient arrives. I am ahead of schedule!
2:10-2:20 PM – Work on clinical notes from earlier in the day that didn’t get completed because I was running behind.
2:20 PM – I go up front to check to see if my next patient has arrived, they have not. There is a glimmer of hope that I will be able to catch up from the morning. After all clinical notes and documentation is complete I work in the sterilization room if time allows, bagging instruments to be sterilized, unloading autoclave, making up trays for the rest of the day, and restocking my room. When I am done with my chores I always check around with the other hygienists to see if anyone needs any assistance. We are all each others biggest support system.
3:30 PM – A patient that I have seen previously returns for sealants. At age 12, I know that this not typically a challenging task (in comparison to doing sealants on a 6 year old!) So here we go…clean occlusal surfaces with pumice, rinse, dry, etch, rinse, isolate, dry, seal, and cure! Check that bite, adjust, floss, fluoride and they are out the door! I love knowing that I have done my part in helping prevent tooth decay.
4:10 PM – Last patient of the day! I love catching up with my sweet patients that I have seen for years! The relationships that a dental hygienist builds with his/her patients are the best part of the job! This patient is on a 3-month periodontal maintenance recall but does an excellent job with homecare. All x-rays are current and patient had no chief complaints.
5:10 PM – Done almost on time! I complete all clinical documentation and clock out for the day.
Most dental hygienists will agree that the days’ schedule can be hectic and a lot of times it can be “feast or famine”. Some days are crazy, the appointments all seem to overlap, and others can drag on when patients cancel or no show. Overall, this is a very rewarding career and you truly are making a difference with the patients who trust you to care for their oral health.