Mother watches as her son goes into the treatment room with the nurse

Temp Hygienist Tips: How to Take Care of a Coworker's Patient

Oct 13, 2017 

Author: Jen Collins,RDH

Dental hygienists aren't robots! They need sick days and short-notice personal days just like everyone else. Unlike regular 9-to-5 office workers who can reschedule their meetings, dental hygienists can't cancel all of their appointments and reschedule them all for the day they return. That's where a temp hygienist comes in. Filling in for a coworker can be challenging and even more challenging if you're substituting in a whole new practice.

Here are some tips to help you through your 'not-your-average' day and provide your coworker's patients with the best care possible.

Stay Positive

The best way to start your day as a temp hygienist is to walk into the office confidently. Arrive early in the day so you can review the absent dental hygienist's patient notes so you know who you can expect and their oral health history. Additionally, look for any notes about potentially difficult patients who might not be receptive to a new dental hygienist. Knowing personalities ahead of time will help you prepare and personalize your greetings.

Imagine walking out to greet your first patient and he/she refuses to see you. What do you do then to convince patients to trust you? First, explain that you're helping their regular dental hygienist who is ill and resting at home. Say something like, "Mrs. Jones, I know you usually see Carrie, but unfortunately she is ill today. I'm a temp hygienist."

Be upfront and explain to patients that their usual dental hygienist will be in the office when they return in six months. Learning about the patients first thing in the morning will help you build rapport with patients you don't know. Talk about details, such as, "I know Carrie was looking forward to seeing you today. She said you are a grandmother now!" Make a connection with patients to put them at ease when they see a new face.

Try Your Best

According to Dentistry IQ, be prepared to learn new ways of doing things. Try your best to mimic techniques, but don't be surprised if patients notice differences. You're not perfect and you're probably used to conducting appointments your way.

During the appointment, patients may ask, "Why does my regular dental hygienist do things differently?" Educate the patient by telling them, "Every dental hygienist has her own way of doing things, but we all have the same training, so you'll get great care from all of us." The school the other dental hygienist attended may influence her technique. When scheduling patients, consult with the dentist who's familiar with the patient before suggesting any longer term dental care options, so that you don't undermine previous treatment suggestions.

Be Professional

Temping and filling in may lead to permanent jobs in the future, so always keep in touch with offices you enjoyed working at. Provide offices with the days you're available and network with fellow clinicians to meet new people. RDH Magazine advises that you don't change the ways things are done. Make yourself at home, but always remember you are working in someone else's space. Call ahead to find out what uniforms everyone else is wearing so that you fit in with the rest of the team. Start off on the right foot by showing up early, staying on time and helping out wherever you're needed.


  • Explain to patients that you're a temp hygienist, but you'll still provide them great care.
  • Be respectful of the other dental hygienist's space and methods.
  • Maintain professional relationships with dental offices in the hope that they'll invite you to substitute again.

Why It's Important

All in all, be confident when you're a temp hygienist. Be confident in your schooling as it will help you care for any and all patients. Keep in mind that some patients may be less receptive to a new dental hygienist, so try your best and be professional to have the best experience and best temping day possible.

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