Dental Practice Solutions

Optimize your dental hygiene department by taking an integrated, team approach

  • Do you feel like you are working hard and your production is not increasing?
  • Do you feel like your hygiene department is under performing?
  • Is your hygiene department producing 25-30% of your total production?
  • Are hygienists in your office treating bloody prophys?
  • Does your hygiene department help enroll implant cases and high-end treatment?
  • Do you have one or more holes in your schedule daily?

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Dental Practice Solutions - Debbie Bittke

3 Steps Dental Hygienists Can Take to Get Off the Treadmill and Create Profits Plus Much More

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

August 27, 2014


There are many services and systems a dental hygienist can provide to make the dental practice more profitable.

This week I will write about just 3 steps dental hygienists can take to get off the treadmill and create profits plus so much more.

One week ago I received one of the nicest, most touching emails from the hygienist of a client.

The hygienists name is Marlene at Westover Smiles. Marlene is a recent graduate from a dental hygiene program in Virginia. I will post her letter sent to me below. Providing care in a dental office as a dental hygienist is very different from learning about dental hygiene in a college or university program. She knew how to be a dental hygienist but lacked the experience of working in a dental office, talking to patients about disease, treatment plans and then keeping on time during the day with her patients. Dr. Sadeddin, her employer enrolled in one of our programs to support Marlene in getting to her next level of success. It was also a fun experience for me to work with not only Marlene but doctor and the team!

This reminds me of what my mother told me about “Marriage.” My mom always told me “You never really know what it is like to be with your husband or significant other, until you live with them.” This is similar to becoming a dental hygienist. You never really understand what it’s like until you are in the trenches of the dental office.

This is exactly what Marlene experienced. Marlene knew what to do as a hygienist but lacked the ability to actually communicate using words that add value to the patient’s appointment, enroll them into future care at the office and her timing to completing hygiene services was still not there.

I remember how difficult it was for me to get into the real world as a clinical hygienist. Thirty years ago most hygienists were given 45 minutes for a patient appointment and in the hygiene program we had 3 hours of patient time! All of a sudden, when I arrived as a dental hygienist in the real world of dentistry, it felt like the treadmill was really going fast and I had to run as fast as I could to keep up! It was not fun. I felt stressed and very lost, just like Marlene.

For nearly 15 years as a practice management consultant, I have enjoyed creating ways to support hygienists who feel stressed, burned-out, overwhelmed and just ready to quit what can be a great career. I love serving dentists as my clients and their team. Let me share with you a few ways (there are so many more) to help hygienists work more efficiently, add improved profits and patient care. These three will create harmony within the team and a sustainable dental practice for the doctor.

First of all, the dental hygiene department can be profitable. Back thirty years ago and even when I was just dreaming of a dental hygiene career, the dental hygiene department was thought of as a loss leader. This is no longer true!

These 3 steps are a small part of what Marlene and the team at Westover Smiles has implemented.

3 Steps to Less Stress and More Profits in the Dental Hygiene Department:

1.    Create and share your philosophy for treating perio patients

This means the doctor and hygienists agree on what is considered a perio patient. (This means you all agree on radiographic type of calculus, radiographic bone loss and even without the presence of calculus, what areas are probed and at what intervals, etc.,m etc.) Next is when to intervene with non-surgical periodontal therapy (Phase I Therapy) and how you will treat each individual perio patient.

2.    Communication to add value and get a commitment from your patient

Doctor, hygienist and the entire team need to know what words to use with their various patients to add value to patients’ appointments, show empathy and communicate in language each different patient will understand

Learn about the various personality types and how to talk to each patient’s different personality type. The DISC profile is a good place to start. Tone and your posture (Proxemics) are also important when speaking to patients about their overall health and dental concerns, etc.

Write it down, (Keep scripts for future employees to understand what is expected) the words each team member will use when speaking to patients. When you know what you will say, role-play the patient situations practicing your communication with the various patient personality types. Practice on each other not your patients and get your communication down to a science.

3.    Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

In real estate they say “Location.” “Location.” “Location.” In dentistry it is important to monitor anything and everything that you want to see a result in.

Know what the acceptable key metrics are for a dental hygiene department. Do you know what percentage of your adult patients have received periodontal therapy? What is the norm for treatment of perio in the nation?

Do your hygienists know what their production numbers?

Each employee needs accountability and to be a part of the total process, financial aspects included; will create valuable employees. If your hygienist is not interested in the production numbers, ask yourself if you are ok with employing a hygienist who only cares about a pay check?

Dentistry, even the dental hygiene department is a business. The dental hygiene department should produce 25% to 30% of the total office production.

There are many other areas in a dental practice that create profitable dental hygiene departments, but I share just three today.

Do you implement all three of these? If not, choose one today to begin implementing. Schedule a team meeting and write down what you what you need to create to get to your next level of success and profitability, discuss it and practice doing what you talk about implementing. Set up some accountability so you know that what you say and what you practice does get implemented.

Employing committed team members will make or break the success of your dental practice. It is what creates a great reason to come to the office every day.

When the entire team takes responsibility for their part and when you have accountability measures in place, you will not only create a team-driven practice which makes a happier, more pleasant work environment but also create systems so everyone knows what is expected. Think of this as a choreographed dance routine.

When everyone on your team works in harmony your dental practice will see a payment in dividends returned for the life of your dental practice.

Marlene’s Letter to Debbie

“I cannot thank Debbie enough for helping me through this journey. I started off as a new graduate – no experience out of school. After I got my license, I worked with the temp agency for months. During this time, I worked with multiple doctors, all with different views on things. I did not have a firm system for myself as a hygienist. Back in hygiene school our teachers did their best to get students prepared for the real world; but in reality, it is just not the same. Unless one has experienced it themselves, one can easily get lost, confused, and/or run late with the patients.

When I first got my permanent job I was excited because I knew I would be the only hygienist in the practice. As a couple of months went by, I realized my communication with patients was not to the standard it should be. I lacked the best words to use with my patients and/or my explanations to the patients just did not “make the mark.”

I was not firm enough to make patients realize the consequences of diseases and their overall health if the perio disease was not treated. That is when I started taking Debbie’s program. She guided me to have my own system as a hygienist. Debbie gave me scripts on what to say to patients on certain topics. I made those scripts my own. I used the words that felt comfortable to me but as least I had something set in stone to learn best from.

I now feel more comfortable and confident. Patients are listening and learning about their total health. They are saying “Yes” to my care as well as doctors excellent dentistry he provides. Everyone in the office can tell a difference. Not only has Debbie helped me but has helped the office as a whole. As a team my office and I have better communication. I will keep working on this program to become an exceptional hygienist for my patients. Thank you Debbie!”

Marlene Quispe, RDH

Office of Hazim Sadeddin, DDS


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Debbie is Founder of Dental Practice Solutions since 2000. She serves dental practices globally through her dental hygiene systems and online products. Debbie is known for creating sustainable and profitable dental practices through her vast knowledge of what makes a dental practice successful. She is also known as one of Dentistry Today’s Top Dental Consultants. She has a no-charge 7 Day Dental Hygiene Department Profitability Program that you can get a glimpse of what working with her is like. Grab your 7 Day Program here: 7 DAY DENTAL HYGIENE PROGRAM