Tips to help young hygienists overcome age bias with patients

Aug. 9, 2011
As a recent dental hygiene graduate, Daniella Sansotta, RDH, explains how she uses humor and education to put skeptical patients at ease with her youth.

By Daniella Sansotta, RDH

"So, you're the one who will be cleaning my teeth today?" is the usual question I get as my patients stare at me nervously, wondering why I'm concerned with their health history. As a young, recent dental hygiene graduate, this is a situation I encounter frequently. However, these appointments often end with those same patients expressing their gratitude to me for providing such an enjoyable and informative dental experience.

I am 22 years old and I have been practicing dental hygiene for a little over a year now. By way of my colleagues, I know that I am not the only hygienist who has encountered age bias in the operatory. I have learned to counteract patients' skepticism and put them at ease using a little humor and education.

Breaking the ice

Dental hygiene courses teach us everything we need to know about the oral cavity and preventive care. Comedy 101 wasn't offered as an elective in my program, but to my benefit I've learned that a little humor goes a long way toward putting a skeptical patient at ease. I break the ice with an age-biased patient by playing into his or her worries with a light joke or witty comment. For example, when I find myself confronted with the question, "Am I your first patient?" I quickly respond with a smile and say, "No, Mr. Jones. You're my third."

Knowledge is power

Informing and educating is one of the most important aspects of the dental hygiene profession. Although we are taught to educate all of our patients, I have found it to be particularly helpful in putting a skeptical patient at ease. With these patients I take a little extra time to explain each step of the appointment, assuring them that as a result of my recently acquired knowledge, I am a fully capable and competent practitioner. For example, I'll mention that I am fully licensed to perform local anesthesia and administer nitrous oxide, something they might think only a dentist can do. This further reassures them that the young, recent dental hygiene grad isn't just a "tooth cleaner."

What I think is most important in dealing with a difficult patient — whether they are skeptical of my abilities due to age or they are just your run-of-the-mill dental phobic patient — is to project an aura of confidence in what we do as registered dental hygienists. As young recent graduates, we are well prepared with the knowledge and skills to provide any patient with preventive and secondary care that exceeds the status quo.

Author bio
Daniella Sansotta, RDH, is a 2010 graduate of the Farmingdale State College School of Dental Hygiene. She currently practices full time in three dynamic practices located throughout Long Island and Manhattan. Daniella anticipates graduating in December of 2011 with her Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene from Farmingdale State College. She is a member of the American Dental Hygiene Association. Daniella recently completed her practicum in dental hygiene, working with a reputable pharmaceutical manufacturer in the field of dental sales. This experience has aspired her to one day diversify her career within the profession in dental hygiene.