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Posted by: The Probe 2nd December 2018
How the role of dental hygienists and dental therapists might continue to affect change within dentistry for years to come.
To say that dentistry has changed over the years would be an understatement. The role of the dental hygienist and dental therapist, in particular, has evolved with the times in order for us to deliver the best possible patient care.
Skill mix utilisation
Now able to work to their full scope of practice, even without the prescription of a dentist thanks to direct access, dental hygienists and dental therapists have the opportunity to deliver a wide range of services.
As their roles have changed, so too has the potential for them to effect the patient care delivered, as well as the profitability of the business. For example, with dental hygienists and dental therapists able to provide certain treatments directly to patients, this enables practices to maximise on skill mix within the team. This in turn facilitates more efficient workflows as it frees up precious time for the dentists and allows them to focus on more complex treatment.
Patients therefore benefit from easier access to quality care, practitioners benefit from higher job satisfaction and the practice can take advantage of the higher earning potential afforded by this improved skill mix utilisation. This is particularly topical for dental care providers right now with the uncertainty surrounding the associate recruitment shortage in some areas of the UK, which may only worsen with Brexit. If we can better delegate responsibilities within the practice, we may be able to alleviate some of the pressures faced in the future.
What with oral health statistics being what they are in the UK right now, it has never been so important to engage with the population and raise awareness of the importance of dental health. The role dental hygienists and dental therapists play with regards to patient education is crucial now and will continue to be so in the future, as they can have a major impact on prevention.
We are ideally placed to discuss topics such as home care routines, diet and lifestyle choices with patients in order to encourage healthier habits. Not only does our scope of practice incorporate preventive procedures – such as fluoride varnish applications and temporary fillings – but we also often have the time and experience needed to offer advice and recommendations on everything from oral health products to brushing technique.
Further still, we are widely considered to be highly approachable by patients, so they may be more likely to voice their concerns or ask questions of us than perhaps our dentist colleagues. We can then address these queries and really motivate patients to engage with their oral health by taking some of the responsibility for maintaining high standards of hygiene. In addition, we all know how closely oral health is associated with general health. If we can continue to promote the need for good dental hygiene routines and help patients understand the link with decreased risk of various systemic health conditions, we can influence their long-term quality of life as well.
All this serves to not only improve the dental health of patients and therefore enhance overall statistics for the UK, but also to encourage patient loyalty to the practice. Taking a personal approach can make patients feel more relaxed and once strong relationships are built with their dental practitioners, they are far more likely to remain loyal to the practice for increased revenue in the long-term.
Looking in the crystal ball
As dentistry is such a fluid profession, we expect to see many more changes in the years to come.
Importantly for us, the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) is currently working alongside the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT) on a joint project aiming for exemptions to the Medicines Act. We are hoping to establish a list of prescription-only medications that can be administered by dental hygienists and dental therapists without the prescription of the dentist. Based on our own experiences in practice and having listened to the stories of others, we believe this will help us deliver much more efficient care to our patients in the future. It will also enable practices to further maximise chair time of all their practitioners, including dental hygienists, dental therapists and dentists. By removing the risk of delays in treatment – currently caused when a patient’s situation changes and a new prescription from the dentist is required to ensure appropriate care – the patient service is improved, workflows are streamlined and patients are less likely to go elsewhere.
We also hope to see the increased use of skill mix in practices across the UK, as this will further enable the profession to deliver excellent patient care. As the scope of practice for dental hygienists and dental therapists expands, so too will our ability to share treatment and prevention responsibilities with our colleagues – both dental and medical – making everyone’s lives easier.
As such, we would encourage all dental hygienists and dental therapists to keep up the great work! Be confident in your capabilities and seek the right training to enable you to extend your skills and fulfil your career aspirations. It’s also important to make your voice heard – by getting involved with professional societies and associations, you can help us have a greater impact on changes that will affect our profession for years to come.
For more information about the BSDHT, please visit www.bsdht.org.uk,
call 01788 575050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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