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The Business of Dental Hygiene

Posted Nov 20th, 2019 in 2019, the wire, thought leadership

Jodie Cantarelli, A.A.S., R.D.H., Dip.AdEd, Manager of Dental Hygiene Programs at dentalcorp

As a practicing dental hygienist, I focused on the delivery of patient-centred care, avoided the financial and operational aspects of a dental practice, and had no need for business acumen. Over time working in dental clinics, my interests and horizons expanded, and I became more and more fascinated by the economic underpinnings of an oral health care clinic. However, as a practice consultant, I find myself seeking the bigger picture. I am intrigued by a practice’s foundation, culture, patient demographics, metrics and financials. This has been a major shift for me but the one constant between the two roles is ensuring the patient is expertly cared for.

When I discuss the business of dental hygiene with other practitioners, they often pause, unsure of what to think. In dental hygiene school, we were never trained to think about financials, metrics or high-level business projections. Some dental hygienists even resist the notion that quality health care and profit can coexist.

So, what exactly does dental hygiene have to do with the business of dentistry? Let’s take a closer look at the different elements that are driven by the hygiene team.

Hygiene production as a percentage of total production is on average 30%.  This means that the hygiene department generates 30% of the gross practice revenue.

Case acceptance: Dental hygienists are the key to building long term relationships with patients. Patients will ask their dental hygienist about a procedure and trust them to guide them to a treatment that suits them best. Pre-planning and scheduling routine morning meetings to review the day, prepare and communicate as a team are crucial to all around customized patient care.

Revenue per visit: As a benchmark, dental hygienists should produce roughly four times their wages.

Patient retention: Dental hygienists significantly contribute to the practice’s patient retention through the relationships they develop with patients.

Restorative revenue: 72—75% of restorative needs come from the dental hygiene operatory. Dental hygienists are professionally trained to screen and spot potential problems to bring issues to the dentist’s attention and are favorably positioned to promote restorative and elective procedures. Communication, respect, teamwork and professionalism, along with a proper exam from the dentist, is what keeps his/her chair busy. 

Key contributors to practice success

Comprehensive patient care starts with the dental hygiene team.  Dental hygienists are major contributors to practice production and—when empowered—the hygiene team can have a tremendous impact on the financial health of a practice. When the entire team is supported and valued, the practice will flourish.  Great practice leaders understand that all team members are responsible for the success of the practice; however, not all practice leaders share their business goals and projections with the team.

Engaging with the business

As a team member and key contributor to practice success, it is advantageous for dental hygienists to learn and apply new skills. If you find yourself disengaged from the business side of the practice, actively seek opportunities to learn about the business. Initiate a discussion with your practice leader and let him/her know you would like to develop your business acumen. Additionally, experienced mentors can offer invaluable guidance and help facilitate your professional development. Consider seeking a mentor that can help you understand business fundamentals and develop skills that will enable you to thrive in your career inside and outside the operatory.

A win-win situation

Above all, optimal patient care needs to be the number one priority of the practice. When patient needs are being met, it will inevitably benefit the practice – what’s good for patients is ultimately good for the business. Further, when the practice’s finances flourish, opportunities present for professional growth, financial gain and flexibility for the entire team. Contribution to the practice’s financial success is a direct impact to your success. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!

As originally published in Oral Health's Hygienist Handbook.

About the Author

Jodie is a Manager of Dental Hygiene Programs at dentalcorp. In her role, she partners with dental teams across Canada to help them provide optimal patient care. Jodie earned her degree in Dental Hygiene, diploma in Adult Education at St. Francis Xavier University. Her professional experience includes private practice, a clinical evaluator for the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, a clinical and didactic instructor, program director, past advisory board member, published author and professional speaker.  

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