The consequences of dull dental hygiene instruments on practice productivity

Sharpening in the trenches: Survey results

Instrument sharpening is rarely part of discussions about the business model of dental hygiene. This isn’t surprising given that sharpening is often literally left out of the hygienist’s day, whether he or she likes it or not. Our recent survey on sharpening revealed that of hygienists who say they aren’t sharpening as much as they’d like, 73% cite a lack of time as the main issue.

From our survey, it also became clear that some hygienists’ employers (both individual dentist-owners and DSOs) don’t value sharpening. They don’t provide reasonable time to accomplish it, expecting hygienists to do it after hours—that is, unpaid. Some employers even downright discourage it. One respondent said, “The doctor gets upset when we sharpen and thinks we will ruin the instruments.” There were many other comments such as this one.

Why is something as central to the practice of dental hygiene as a sharp scaler so neglected in some practices’ models of productivity and everyday activities? Why should hygienists feel confident in including sharpening as an important part of their work, both as clinicians and as generators of revenue? In this installment, we’ll explore these questions and hear what experts have to say about them.

The money

Let’s be cynics for a moment. We all know that not every dental professional has the patient’s best interests at heart. We’ll explore the clinical consequences of dull instruments in an upcoming article, but what about consequences that are spelled out in dollars? Sometimes even dire clinical consequences are not enough to push a practice owner to prioritize patient care, but such a person or entity will pay attention when the practice loses money. So, it’s worth asking: Can dull instruments actually hurt a practice’s bottom line?