Time is on Your Side

Posted on June 23, 2017

When we think about our dental hygiene appointments and the tasks we complete for each patient, we could easily write out the steps of the ideal appointment. From experience, we quickly learn that what we set out as the perfectly efficient appointment on paper isn’t necessarily how it happens in the chair!  What we can’t predict and put on the list are all the “other” things that can pop up during that limited appointment time that greatly affect how efficiently we can complete all the pertinent tasks.  

Maybe the patient arrives a few minutes late, or they have a lot of new information to discuss in their medical history, or maybe they have a surprise dental issue that needs to be addressed and now you’re taking a PA and then the doctor is spending extra time discussing the findings and then… the next thing you know you’re running behind!  

Although there may not be a way to predict all the unexpected things that can hijack our precious time in the chair, there are things we can control that will set us up to be efficient during any dental hygiene appointment.


Be prepared:

Take the time to look over all your patient charts at the beginning of your day.  What procedures/quadrants are they scheduled for?  Do they need radiographs? Anesthetic? Any special patient requests (i.e. neck pillow, flavor preferences, etc)? Any concerns needing follow up from the previous appointment?  By knowing these things ahead of time, you can have the necessary items/questions ready to go before your patient is seated.

Be organized:

Is your room stocked? If you’re not completely digital, do you have all your charts for the day? If you’re running around looking for items that aren’t within arms reach you’re burning up valuable minutes in the appointment.

Are your instruments ready for the day?  Using a piezoelectric or magnetostrictive power scaler with the correct tips and power setting allows for more efficient calculus removal. Having an uncluttered and sharp instrument set up ensures efficient debridement.  Too many instruments on your tray wastes time in so many ways! Tray set up, sharpening, sterilization, even just having to look over all the instruments on the tray to see the instrument you need takes longer.  An amazing time saver is using double-ended, sharpen-free XP® Technology Double Gracey™ instruments.  Double ended means two instruments in one, which instantly declutters your tray and allows for less changing out of instruments to access different areas in the mouth. Color-coded, lightweight handles make identification fast and easy.  Add in the sharpen-free and you’re no longer spending any time on sharpening, and that consistently sharp edge ensures quick calculus removal as well - huge time saver!

Communicate effectively:

One of the biggest draws on time can be waiting for the doctor to come in for the exam.  Even the most punctual doctors can have a procedure or change in their day that distracts them from getting in to see your patient in a timely fashion.  Once you have gone through the initial information gathering (medical history, radiographs, concerns) let the doctor know you’re ready for the exam. This gives an early reminder for them, especially helpful if there are specific concerns to address.  If you’re not having to track them down for an exam then time lost to waiting for them is zero! 

Talk with your clinical team (dental assistants and hygienists) at the start of the day to help trouble-shoot areas on the schedule before they become time burners.  If that’s not an option, do keep the lines of communication open while the day goes on to ensure everyone is running smoothly. Remember, if the dental assistant is behind or struggling in their day, that affects how efficient the doctor is and can cause time loss in your schedule as well.

Utilizing your time outside of the clinical appointment to prepare yourself for the things you do have control over will better enable you to handle all the things that can pop up during a busy hygiene day.  Every office is different, you may be able to think of other things not mentioned here that can be addressed to ensure your day runs smoothly – for example, maybe you have access to a sterilization or hygiene assistant that could help? By being prepared, organized and using effective communication, you will have better use of the limited appointment time for every patient.

Time can be on your side during even the busiest of clinical days when you set yourself up for success!

- Kryssi McKiel, RDH, BSc, Clinical Educator