Oral Health Group

The Hygienist’s role in Promoting cosmetic dentistry

June 1, 2005
by Cathy Jameson, Ph.D.

One of the main responsibilities of any dental professional is to educate patients about the needs that exist in their mouths and about opportunities that are available in dentistry — opportunities that have been with us for a long time but have not been accessed by the patient, and new opportunities that come with progress in the profession.

There is no one on the team who has a closer relationship with a patient than the hygienist. She/he spends long, quality appointment time with a patient, is able to converse during most appointments, has a confident level of trust with patients and is qualified to be a dental educator.


Most people do not know what is cosmetically available in the dental arena. When asked to describe porcelain laminate veneers, for example, very few laypersons are able to do that. Sometimes we, as dental professionals, think that people know more than they do about our field and are often amazed to realize the low dental I.Q. of the average person. Thus, constantly educating patients in a multiplicity of ways helps the patient by letting them know what might be available to them. This helps the practice by opening the door for treatments to be provided.

When I interview or question new clients prior to our initial consultation experience, the vast majority of practitioners tell me that they want to increase the cosmetic aspect of their practice. They want to do more cosmetic dentistry. The team loves cosmetic dentistry. It is fun and rewarding. However, most practices do very little cosmetic dentistry in comparison to other procedures. The team has a tendency to wait until someone asks them about cosmetic dentistry. They are reactive, rather than proactive about opening their own doors for cosmetic possibilities.

The following are some suggestions about how the hygienist can be a proactive educator-one who opens the door for cosmetic possibilities within the practice.

1. When sending hygienic notices — either confirming a pre-scheduled appointment or letting a person know that they are past due for their hygiene appointment, send an informative letter and a brochure about one particular cosmetic procedure that your practice is providing. Change this letter and brochure every three to six months so that the patient family is continually informed about different types of cosmetic procedures. You never know which type of procedure is going to stimulate someone’s interest.

2. Send a letter and a brochure about a particular procedure to the entire patient family. Then, when patients are flowing through the hygienic area, ask if they have received the information and if they have any questions. Show them before and after photographs — either in a photo album or on your intra-oral camera system for those of you who have storage capability. (Hopefully, all of you have storage capability.)

Example: One of our clients wanted to do more bleaching. He had attended a course on bleaching, had purchased a home bleaching system and was ready to go. So, the practice sent a letter to the entire patient family along with a brochure (provided by the bleaching system). In the letter, the patients were invited to call for further information or to schedule a consultation appointment to discuss the possibilities. The phone rang off the wall.

The hygienist in this practice bleached her upper teeth, leaving the lowers for a later time. They took intra-oral photographs of her teeth-before and after the bleaching. They stored these photographs on their intra oral camera and also printed these before and afters.

Each time a patient came into her area, the hygienist asked people if they had received the letter about their new bleaching system. Then she showed them her own before and after photographs. She enthusiastically shared her feelings of joy over the change in her smile and asked if whitening the smile would be of interest to the patient.

The response was amazing. So many people went ahead with bleaching I couldn’t believe it!!

If this type of promotion is of interest to you, but there isn’t a hygienist who wants or needs bleaching, do this on any member of the team — or a patient who gives you permission to use their before and after photographs for educational purposes. Written permission is, of course, essential.

3. Matte and frame some before-and-after photographs of a cosmetic case. Place these in the hygienic treatment room. Also, place brochures about various cosmetic changes in the hygiene room. The exposure of these procedures to the patients will stimulate questions. If a patient doesn’t ask questions, point out the photographs. Ask questions such as, “Did you see my new photographs about changing the smile? We are so excited that we can offer these services to our patients. So many people want a prettier smile. Are you happy with your teeth or would you like for me to tell you about our new procedures?”

Then, alter the photographs and feature a different procedure every three to six months. It is important not to keep the same before and after photographs on the wall. You will want to introduce several options in order to reach people who have different needs.

4. Use the intra-oral camera constantly. I know. You are thinking that you don’t have time to use the camera. But you do. This is the most important diagnostic and educational tool in dentistry today. It needs to get out of the corner and be used on most every patient most every day.

In addition to evaluating new areas of concern, existing treatment plans, periodontal problems, and home care effectiveness, the camera can be a stimulus for cosmetic dentistry. Tell the patients that you have added a new diagnostic tool to your practice so that you can take better care of the patients and so that you can let them know what is going on in dentistry today.

Then, take a photograph of the patient’s upper teeth. Ask what they like most about the teeth in the upper area. What do they like least? If they could change anything about the teeth in the upper part of their mouth, what would they change.

Then, shift to a photograph of the lower teeth and ask the same questions. A photograph from the lateral views will stimulate unbelievable interest. People are not used to seeing their teeth from the side. Give them a look at this view and listen carefully to their questions. They will begin asking about cosmetic changes. We have found that after adding the lateral views to our intra-oral photographs that the cosmetic aspect of our own practice rose significantly.

5. Patient education systems are a terrific way to let people know what is available and to stimulate questions and interest. These systems can be placed in the reception area and can play in an ongoing manner. Or, they can be placed in the treatment areas and consultation area for back-up support for your recommendations. And, in addition, they can be integrated into the practice management system. If you have terminals at the chair, be sure to use the educational programming that is a part of most current software packages.

If your management software doesn’t have an educational aspect, you can purchase stand-alone systems and integrate them into your computer. However, in order for these educational systems to be beneficial to the practice, they have to be used. Be ready to use this fabulous visual aid to educate your patients. When someone asks a question about a cosmetic service or when they respond positively to your own questions, letters, brochures, etc., let them see a short, simple but powerful educational program about that procedure.

These programs are patient friendly and very accurate. Since approximately 83 percent of learning takes place visually, you will save time and get better results if you use visual aids to support your presentation and to answer questions.

These are five powerful ways for the hygienist to be an educator about cosmetic dentistry. Set a goal to develop this exciting part of your practice. Accept the role and responsibility to be
an educator about the new and wonderful services related to cosmetic dentistry. You will love the results, your patients will be happy dental patients, and your practice will thrive. That makes for a fulfilling and rewarding environment!

Cathy Jameson is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She has 26 years of “hands-on” experience in her husband’s practice and more than 15 years of lecturing and consulting.

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