teeth cleaning by dental hygienist

Now that you’re a real, full-fledged dental hygienist and about to embark on your first job, it’s time to put all your hard training to the test. If you’re feeling nervous about your first day or want to know what to expect, here are some tips to keep in mind.


▶Also watch CONFIDENCE TIPS FOR NEW RDHs:  https://teethtalkgirl.com/videos/new-grad-tips

Remember, You’re Prepared For This

You’ve passed your exams. You passed your board. You are licensed to offer dental hygiene services. You’ve cleaned hundreds of teeth over the past couple of years, so now it’s just time to put that skill into action.

It’s easy to feel nervous about how much time you’re going to spend on patient appointments. After all, private practice has a much stricter scheduling protocol than dental hygiene school did.

But there’s great news. You don’t have to get checked, graded, and consistently pause during these visits. You’re going to naturally become more efficient at what you’re doing. You’ve got this. Within a few days you’ll have found your groove.

1) Be Confident

If you’re feeling a little timid at the beginning, that’s easy to understand. But you need to be confident about what you’re doing, or other people will be able to tell (and might start to raise their eyebrows.)

One of the most important things to feel confident about is understanding office workflow, including:

  • How does the front desk communicate that the patient is ready to bring back?
  • Understanding which information you’re responsible for collecting, if any.
  • Understand how the doctor would like for you to differentiate between a prophy and an SCRP.
  • Being familiar with the equipment that you’re working with.

Since every office is different, be confident about asking the dentist and front office about these things ahead of time. That way you’ll be able to work more efficiently and communicate clearly from day one on the job. You might want to have a short meeting with the office manager or dentist ahead of time.

2) How The Dentist Likes To Conduct Exams

One of the most important things to know on your first day as a hygienist is when and how to ask the doctor to come in and perform a patient exam. Do they want you to leave a sticky note? Walk by and signal to the assistant? Send a message through the computer or a headset? What if you have a new patient that may need an SCRP but you aren’t sure if the doctor is in agreement?

Every dentist and dental office is going to be different when it comes to exams. Some doctors like to step in when they get a break, while others don’t want to perform an exam until you’ve completed everything on your end. Just communicate ahead of time and pay attention to what’s happening in other hygiene operatories to get a feel of how the routine tends to go.

3) Know Where Things Are

Part of being confident on your first day as a dental hygienist comes down to knowing where to find things and where everything goes. Like your various patient supplies, masks, gloves, or certain types of instruments.  

A great way to make sure you know where everything is at, is to shadow another hygienist at the office before your first day. Make notes on where everything is at, (including how the patient is handed off.)

If there isn’t a hygienist to shadow—like, maybe you’re replacing the one that left—ask to go up the day before you start working to take a look around the operatory and supply closet to familiarize yourself with everything.

4) Do You Need Anything? 

Maybe you need a specific piece of equipment or instrument that the office doesn’t have. Feel free to request this ASAP, or consider bringing your own (depending on what it is.) Without the right tools, it’s easy to fall behind or deal with ergonomic-related injuries.

Major pieces of equipment such as ultrasonic or piezo machines will want to be something you ask about during the actual job interview or on the initial office tour. If they don’t offer one already and you find out you’ll be working without one, you may have a bit of trouble trying to convince the office to make such a big purchase on your first day. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

5) Be Respectful Of The Other Staff

In the past, there was a reputation that dental hygienists acted like the queen of the dental office or didn’t always pull their weight. Remember that it’s best to help out other team members, including assistants, so that they’ll be there to help if you need something. Never be shy to jump in and offer to help sterilize instruments or turn a room around. Happy, helpful co-staff are key to a thriving office environment!

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