Tooth whitening is a popular treatment, with Americans reporting that the one thing they would like to improve about their smile is to have whiter and brighter teeth.
As a dental hygienist, you can gently introduce discussions on tooth whitening routinely when seeing your patients. Showing patients the improvement in their smile following extrinsic stain removal during a prophy is gratifying for patients and, if appropriate, provides an opportunity to suggest tooth whitening to further improve their smile. Providing tooth whitening for interested patients is then also gratifying, both as a dental hygienist and for the patient.
Providing high quality dental treatment is, of course, not a solo mission. The whole dental team should therefore be aware of their role in delivering professional tooth whitening and a patient’s journey to a white, bright smile. Effective partnering with fellow team members requires that everyone is ‘singing from the same sheet,’ and respect for each individual’s role in the partnership.
Partnering with the front desk/receptionist
The individual at your front desk is the first person to greet patients, and a warm, friendly face sets the tone. Your team member at the front desk plays a key role in giving patients information about the office, what treatments are offered, and can influence their expectations.
Patients can be given a questionnaire, or a couple of questions can be added after the medical history form and be placed on the office’s social media page, asking whether there is anything about their teeth that they would like to change. Information available in the waiting room can be signposted. For patients who voluntarily express an interest in tooth whitening, additive information can be provided at the front desk.
A patient’s interest level in tooth whitening, including whether they voluntarily expressed an interest, should then be shared with you and other members of the dental team caring for the patient. Communicating this to the dental team before the patient enters the operatory helps to prepare everyone.
Partnering with the dentist
Dentists often include tooth whitening as an option within wider treatment plans, such as restorative work. Partnering includes providing additional information during hygiene visits to support the dentist’s recommendations regarding tooth whitening and, when within scope of practice, to provide tooth whitening.
Conversely, if patients are seeing you for hygiene visits and are treatment planned for restorative care, you have an opportunity to ask the patient about tooth whitening and discuss how tooth whitening will complement restorative care in improving their smile. Additionally, by explaining to patients that restorative care should be performed prior to tooth whitening to maximize shade match, you may encourage patients to have needed restorative care that they were previously putting off or avoiding altogether.
In some situations, sequencing hygiene and dentist appointments on the same day may be possible and can demonstrate partnership and coordinated care to the patient.
Partnering with the dental assistant
Dental assistants play a key role in reassuring patients and helping them feel more comfortable during dental visits. Patients can be more comfortable discussing concerns and asking questions of dental assistants while they are being escorted to the operatory or when the dentist is not in the room. This is an opportunity to address concerns, answer questions and to ask patients how they feel about their smile, potentially opening up a discussion on tooth whitening.
Depending on your office, team members may agree that the dental assistant routinely takes a tooth shade at the beginning of appointments for all patients and notes the shade in the patient’s chart. Patients can be provided with a mirror to view the process, and may ask why this is being done. Either way, it creates a great opportunity to open up a discussion on tooth whitening.
Another fantastic way to advertise tooth whitening is for all team members to have completed whitening themselves, if appropriate. This directly shows patients the potential results of the treatment and allows each member of the team to relay to patients their personal experience. This is also an opportunity to mention options for tooth whitening that you can deliver, such as Colgate Optic White Professional.
Overall, the team should all be delivering the same information and messages about whitening and therefore should understand the whitening process and have the same training on what solutions to offer patients. Team huddles are a great way to connect the team at the beginning of each day, recapping on messaging, addressing any difficulties and sharing success stories including successes resulting from good partnership. A brief huddle at the start of each day is an informal way to review which patients are being seen that day and opportunities to partner as a team.
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