DATE: Nov 21, 2016
AUTHOR: Sharon Boyd, RDH, BS

While it's important to ask your patients plenty of questions during an appointment, self-reflection is also key to improving your skills and advancing your dental hygiene career. One way you can identify points for improvement is through asking yourself patient care questions during and after appointments. Here are some examples of things you could be reflecting upon to help ensure your patients receive the best care, while also focusing on your dental hygiene skills.

Questions to Ask Yourself During the Appointment

During your patients' appointments, be very specific in the questions you ask yourself. It will help you pinpoint the specific needs of your patients, especially if you need to encourage tangible feedback. Here are some things to think about during your prophylaxis, scaling and root planing appointments:

  • "Am I paying close enough attention to my patient's comfort?" If you're working with the aid of a topical or local anesthetic and want to be sure that your patient isn't experiencing discomfort while you're focused on the procedure, you could tell your patient, "Please raise your left hand if you feel any sensitivity in this area while I am working."
  • "Am I addressing each of the concerns that the patient mentioned during our initial conversation?" Some patients may not tell you exactly what concerns they have unless you ask. When the visit begins, be sure to make a mental note or written list (such as on a sticky note) of what issues the patient is struggling with. This reminder can help you avoid skipping over points that your patient feels should be addressed, furthering the attentiveness of your care.
  • "Am I meeting the emotional needs of my patients?" The FDI World Dental Federation's new definition of "oral health" emphasizes the importance of emotional health. Be specific about addressing aesthetic concerns, which can help you better address emotional needs. To be sure this facet of care isn't overlooked, ask patients to rate their smile on a scale of one to 10, and provide them with the opportunity to mention any aspects they would like to improve.

Questions to Ask Yourself After the Appointment

Without planning your course of career development and peer mentoring, you may be missing an opportunity to become a gentler, more knowledgeable and skilled clinician. We should ask ourselves effective patient care questions, not just ask the individuals we treat. Be sure to ask yourself:

  • "Are there any certifications or skills I need to acquire in order to expand my capabilities as a dental hygienist?" Planning your continuing education for the year is the first place to start. It may be time to try new things instead of settling in where you're most comfortable.
  • "Am I spending the appropriate amount of time on specific procedures?" Conducting a time study can help if you have a habit of running behind or want to become more efficient. Practice time management for each patient, where you can document exactly how much time is spent on things like probing, taking X-rays, making whitening trays and completing sealants. Try this for a week and take the average of your times to see if there are areas where there is room for improvement.
  • "Is there something I could do to help this patient feel more valued?" As an employee, you are a reflection of the businesses you work for. As health care providers, you also want your patients to know that you genuinely care about them. When patients walk out the door, jot notes in their file to help you better relate to their specific needs when you see them the next time. For instance, if Mrs. Smith told you that her son was having surgery the next week, consider sending a card. If she is seeing a different clinician at the next visit, let her know that you will share everything going on with her case, and assure her that she will be in good hands. A personal touch can have a tremendous impact on patient-provider relationships!


  • Ask yourself questions during appointments to help improve your patient care.
  • Plan your continuing education to stay up to date on your license and dental hygiene skills.
  • Reflect often on your day-to-day activities to help improve your professional development.

Why It's Valuable

The patient care questions that you ask yourself should reference both physical and emotional needs, along with your own professional development. Asking yourself specific questions during and after each appointment will help to add value to your relationship with your patients and to your career.