Success in dental hygiene retentionhygiene retention is easily recognized as the backbone of successful practice management – obviously, if you are going to do great things with your patients you have to keep them coming in – but it is paradoxically also one of the most neglected areas of “practice hygiene.”

Like most bad habits, it tends to happen incrementally. You want to accommodate patients, so you start looking for an appointment date that suits their schedule – even if it means stretching a six-month interval to seven or eight months. If insurance restrictions cut things back further, you work within those restrictions, rather than confront the reality of the patient’s best needs. Eventually, these incremental allowances in patient care standards add up to a significant gap.

Here’s a simple rule-of-thumb example: If a dentist has 1,500 patients and two hygienists that practice is operating at capacity if they are effectively retaining patients based on the clinical need for hygiene. If that practice is comfortably serving more patients than that, something is wrong. It means too many patients are not getting timely care. This is one of those times when too much comfort is a sign of distress.

The solution is a two-step process. The first step is to reinforce your practice’s commitment to clinical best practices when it comes to hygiene intervals. That means communicating effectively with patients about the value of these appointments, to minimize cancellations and no-shows, and to ensure that other competing matters in their schedule don’t get to crowd out their oral health care. It is especially important to have this conversation with new patients, before any bad habits are allowed to take hold.

The next step, once you have patients educated to take their hygiene schedule seriously, is to make sure you have the resources to keep up with the demands of a well-trained patient base. Don’t be fooled by downtime in the hygiene schedule – every practice has some downtime, and it is not a reliable indicator of capacity. When your number of active patients rises (and if you are doing your retention strategies effectively, it should) it’s time to expand.

It may seem like a big step at the time, but this is when bold measures are called for. If you want to provide the most to your patients and get the most from your practice, you can’t be afraid to grow.

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