On many of the online dental hygiene group discussions, a dental hygienist will share their feelings of frustration with the dental environment they are working in. Often, other hygienists will recommend finding a different dental environment or an office they love to reignite their passion for dental hygiene.
When I first started thinking about this article, a pandemic was something we studied in school. Now that we have spent almost a year living in a pandemic, the needs in finding a dental hygiene job have changed a bit. Certain procedures and the office environment that did not have to be thought of before, now become more important. In some areas of the country, a shortage of dental hygienists has occurred. More clinical dental hygienist wanted ads are appearing, and more dental hygiene opportunities are becoming available.
Do you remember having to try on different sizes and types of nitrile or latex gloves before you found a size that fit your hand properly? A glove that did not pull at your palm, that was a size that would allow you tactile sensation and allow you to work comfortably?
Finding a dental hygiene position is a bit like that. You need to find a dental office or dental group that meets your needs and expectations, is a comfortable fit, doesn’t cause you physical, mental or emotional harm and allows you to feel like you belong and can work comfortably.
I have 47 years of experience working in dental offices. I have spent 41 of those years working clinically as a dental hygienist. During that time, I worked full time, part time, as a perio hygienist and as a temp hygienist. I also taught clinical techniques, radiology, and dental hygiene seminar at a local community college. I beta tested dental products for many product manufacturers, and I worked as an ambassador for a periodontal office. I have worked as a clinical representative for a major dental supply company as well as a researcher for a dental insurance fraud company. I have worked clinically in 35+ offices and have visited over 1100 different dental offices in 2 different states.
Every dental office is like a fingerprint. Each one has its own feel, lighting, décor, scent, temperature, temperament, personality and philosophy. Some offices have strong mission statements posted on the front office wall for the staff to follow. Other offices have no structure or organization whatsoever to guide the staff.
With all of this to consider, how do you begin to find an office that is going to be a place you want to work? We all have different needs. We also have different values. And now, during a pandemic, what additional needs must be considered?
How do you develop a clear mental image of your ideal dental office? You will need to develop a list of things important to you to begin your search for an office that fits your needs and values. If you have worked in other dental offices before, you may have begun to develop a list of “must haves,” and things you “will not tolerate.”
To help you develop your needs list, you can start by spending a little time identifying a values list for yourself. I was once told, even if I am a total opposite in personality with another person, if my values match theirs, it will be much easier to work together. Value matching can work in dental offices also.
Review the list below, and select 5 or 6 core values you feel are most important to you. For a more comprehensive list of core values to evaluate, simply do an internet search for core values and a more extensive list can be found online.
Selecting My Core Values
Once you have selected 5 or 6 values that are most important to you, you will want to ask yourself what each value means to you. Also, reflect on how that fits with your current life. Reevaluate your core values as circumstances and stages of your life change.
With your list of these values, you can now start to look at dental hygiene positions with a clearer lens. You may find it easier to decide between job offers simply based on your core values.
For example, if family is especially important to you, working in an office that requires you to stay late on most days may conflict with your family value. If respect is important to you, you may not be able to feel comfortable with being told that hygienists do not really help the practice’s bottom line. If peace or kindness are values that are important to you, you may struggle in an office that has an unbalanced leadership and management system or a gossiping staff.
In the list below you will find working conditions that can make your job harder to perform. I have worked in offices with each of these difficult working conditions.
Working Conditions I Will Not Tolerate
- Not providing proper dental hygiene instruments
- Expectation to punch out when patients are not present
- Poor infection control procedures
- No time to sharpen instruments
- Impossible number of procedures to be done within each appointment
- Not providing adequate time to write chart notes
- Mold growing in faucets
- Never acknowledging good performance
- Team gossips about co-workers
- Dentist has trouble controlling anger
- Double booking hygiene patients
- Inability to ask for time off or take a sick day
- Not being able to count on a paycheck on payday or paycheck bouncing
- Unrealistic expectations without training on equipment or software
- Micromanaging by office manager or dentist
- Equipment that causes ergonomic challenges, i.e. lighting, operator chairs, etc.
- Fixed income with no opportunity for any increase in income over time
- Equipment that breaks down often
- Difficult management staff
- Inadequate amount of time to provide proper patient care
- No time to manage basic personal needs- drinking water, using bathroom
- Not providing timely doctor exams, causing hygiene schedule to crash
- No interest in staff learning new techniques
- Not being open to new ways of doing things
- Working in a toxic work environment
- Dentist does not support hygienist when patients are confrontational
- Not ordering necessary supplies
- Management being unapproachable
- Not being able to take a lunch hour or leave on time on most days
- No support with instrument processing, perio charting, scheduling, treatment planning
- Office manager tries to tell hygienist how to perform hygiene procedures
- Management staff showing favoritism to some employees
In the same way you selected your values, once you have selected things you will not tolerate, you can start to eliminate positions that will be difficult for you to function at your best.
I always wished a dental hygiene job description could be as honest as possible. If they stated “fast-paced,” will that mean 30-minute hygiene appointments or double-booked hygiene appointments?
If they listed “friendly office,” did that mean friendly within the staff or friendly to the patients or both? What did they mean by upbeat, positive person? Will that mean that I must work under conditions that could be difficult? Am I expected to stay positive no matter how I am treated? Do
I have to stay upbeat even though I am stressed due to poor instruments or inadequate time to properly treat the patients in my schedule?
If a job description is looking for the VERY BEST hygienist, how do I fill those big shoes? If the description says they are looking for a rock star to join the team, what exactly does that mean? Job descriptions that state they are looking for someone who is compassionate, able to multi-task and be patient-focused can also be confusing.
Positive Dental Office Attributes
Below is a list of dental office attributes you might consider important. This is not an inclusive list, but it is a list to guide your thinking about attributes many dental hygienists desire in their dental office home.
- Kind, caring and friendly dentist and staff
- Entire team shows mutual respect towards each other, supports each other, values each team member
- Enough time to provide quality care, with clear and realistic expectations of what can be accomplished during hygiene appt.
- Benefit package that is paid by employer
- Patients are the center of the practice
- Dental office has a clear vision
- Lunch hour and bathroom breaks are provided
- Management team shows concern for their staff members
- Office allows PTO for staff member when sick
- Dentist provides prompt exams which help hygiene department stay on schedule
- Paid for hours worked including meetings and huddle
- Dentist provides high quality of dentistry and supports the hygiene department to do the same
- Office has established good systems and provides a handbook to help everyone understand what is expected of each team member
- Staff is understanding and supportive of each other
- Opportunity for growth and development is provided
- Office has a bonus system for the entire staff to work towards
- Proper PPE and infection control practices are followed
- Office is professionally run, not drama driven
- Office has quality equipment for the hygiene department
- Staff treat each other like they treat their patients
Dental Office Attributes I Desire
Now it is time for you to write a job description for the office you want to work in. What does that look like? Having a clearer picture of what you want or need in an office may begin to give you an idea of what you are looking for in a dental hygiene position. Once you have identified what you are looking for, it will be easier to eliminate offices that will not meet your needs.
Remember, just like looking for a new relationship, house, car or a pair of nitrile gloves, one size does not fit all. What you are looking for in your “Good Dental Office” may be completely different than what someone else is looking for.
We have not yet discussed the basic full-time benefit packages dental hygienists may be looking for when searching for a new position. This list can include health insurance, dental and vision insurance, 401(k) matching, paid time off, CEUs provided or a bonus program. There are other benefits some offices offer. Remember to keep these in mind as you search for a new position.
The pandemic has affected the dental hygiene professional in a way that you were not affected before the pandemic. Now, you may be looking for an office that is striving to create the safest environment possible for both their patients and their employees. This can include adequate PPE, plastic shields, air filtration, following CDC guidelines, etc. Will the precautions an office is taking align with your values? This also needs to be considered when looking for the office you would like to call home.
If you follow the steps discussed, you will have a better chance of finding a dental office that stands out and will meet your employment needs. This will prepare you much better than if you simply go on an interview without thinking about what you need first. This list you have created will give you many things to ask about during an interview. Bring it out when you are discussing the position. It will help you get your questions answered and eliminate some possible confusion later.
There may be times during your career that it will not be easy to find the opportunity to make a change to a different dental office. If that happens, use these exercises to open a conversation in your current employment setting. Help the office define the values that are important to the entire dental staff. Maybe you will be able to find common ground and help create a healthier working environment for everyone.
Being in alignment with what truly matters to you will help you make a decision about which dental hygiene position is best for you.