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Three critical skills RDHs need

Smiling RDH

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It’s time to own your performance, be excited to improve, be open to feedback. Because you are an important part of creating a culture that promotes personal responsibility.

The dental industry is tough. We totally get it.

We also know that years of schooling may have trained you to be a highly-organized professional with a Type-A-personality, right? You’re constantly on the hunt for new and creative ways to improve your game – whether that means honing your technical skills or tweaking your approach to patients. 

We spoke with local Charlotte dentists and came up with a list of the top skills that set apart the real RDH talent. You might be surprised – while the hard skills are great, it’s the soft skills that can be total game-changers.

Communicate, even when it’s tough.

The dentist’s office is a scary place for many patients. And the only thing scarier than sitting in that chair is listening to the hushed whispers behind a hygienist’s mask. 

So, how can you make your patients more comfortable?

What you say to a patient can have a huge impact on their overall experience; it can ease their worries (if only momentarily) or it can leave them dreading the dentist even more than when they walked in the door.

A good hygienist is completely transparent. They go over everything with the patient; they clearly narrate each and every step, and debrief the patient fully afterwards. The dentist’s office is stressful enough, so a patient shouldn’t have to spend the entire appointment worrying about the unknown.

A good hygienist answers the patient’s questions thoroughly, but also asks the right questions. No judgement, just calm and clear communication.

As a result, the patient leaves feeling valued and understood – not only on a medical level, but on a personal level. Part of your job is fostering your relationships with your patients. 

This is also an incredibly important part of your job with your dentist, your office manager, and your team. 

Here are some of our go-to communication tips you can take from your interaction with patients to your team: 

  1. Be clear about your timing and schedule. Are you running a couple of minutes behind? Do you already know you’ll be out for vacation that first week in August? Are you feeling a bit under the weather, and you’re worried about your schedule tomorrow. Tell someone; be in communication.

  2. Be willing and eager to follow up. This doesn’t need to happen after every meeting, but it’s especially useful for 1-to-1s and team meetings. This ensures everyone in the team has a clear focus and can prioritise accordingly.

Be constructive and open with feedback – whether you’re giving it or receiving it. Use feedback as observations and facts, not judgments. Use or ask for specific examples where possible and use verbs instead of adjectives to describe a specific scenario. Always give others on your team a chance to respond to feedback.

Always be on time. 

s you may know from experience, the dental hygienist is the backbone of the operation. Not only do you perform teeth cleanings and advise patients, but you also have the most facetime with them. Given your interactions with patients and the rest of the office, it is no surprise that you play a large role in the office culture.

So, if you’re anything but on top of your game, there’s a good chance that’ll rub off on everyone around you. 

And if you run late, everyone runs late, which only adds stress to what is, for many, an already stressful situation. If you’re unproductive or just going through the motions, the other staff might think that’s okay, which could have some pretty alarming effects on how they perform.

Here are some of our go-to time management tips: 

  1. Prioritize productivity. Time management is one of the most crucial determinants of a disciplined and respectable hygienist and team member. When you take control of your productivity, everything works better, faster, more efficiently.

  2. Plan ahead. Think through your calendar on a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar so that you can anticipate how your schedule will impact others on the team.

Don’t ghost. There’s nothing more confusing for a dentist, office manager or a team than someone who commits to being able to fill in and then you’re a no-show. Be accountable and responsible for when, where, and how you’ll show up.


A day at the office can often feel like a whirlwind, with overflowing schedules and white coats flying around. While some days are busier than others, a hygienist pretty much always has to take on a daily mountain of responsibilities, and should always be prepared to follow through with them.

Again, you are the backbone of the operation, so when you agree to take on a task, you have to hold yourself accountable to completing it, to ensure the rest of the operation can run smoothly. 

Here are some of our go-to accountability tips: 

  1. Have the difficult conversation. We all hate these kinds of conversations. But the more willing you are to have this conversation, the more you increase your professional credibility.

  2. Address the poor performance as soon as possible. Did something go wrong? Is there a patient, dentist, office manager or team manager who isn’t happy with your work? Take it on; deal with it. It’s time to set a new standard for your performance.
  3. Follow through. That’s it. Follow through – each time, every time, without fail. There’s nothing more frustrating, unproductive, and unprofessional than choosing to let something go, ‘forget’, or ignore. Be known as someone who follows through and makes things happen.

Dentistry is a tough job. A great RDH should be able to own his or her performance, be willing to improve, and be open to feedback – and, in doing so, raise the standard for dental pros. You are an important part of creating a culture that promotes personal responsibility. Own it. 

You might be surprised how others treat you, how confident you feel, and how you see the reward in your pocketbook because you’ll be able to ask for more money for this new standard of excellence

Read more fun facts, expert advice, and dental industry news on the Biteline blog.
And don’t forget to share with your dental friends!

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