Dental Nurses – help or hindrance?

When you look at our Recruitment section anywhere a dental nurse is rarely mentioned. Some offer one in the way that ‘air conditioning’ or ‘fully computerised surgery’ is mentioned, and some state that a nurse is available.

I know there are divided views on the subject. Many hygienists prefer to work on their own for various reasons, while others would not consider working without a nurse being present at all times. The majority, I guess, would opt for some help with clearing up, sterilization and pocket charting.

This ambivalence may have something to do with most hygienists being women. For years we have heard about dentists, mainly male, stressing the necessity of a nurse as chaperone, but look at hygienists; we have worked un-chaperoned for almost a lifetime and managed to cope. We may have had our anxious moments on occasions but we are, as a profession, innovative.

Undoubtedly, working with a nurse requires adaptation on both sides. If they are used to working with dentists we will be a bit of a shock to them. For a start we spend a lot longer talking to patients than most dentists, because we need to establish a rapport and explain techniques. We also, normally, work in the whole mouth, not just one corner of it, which means negotiating with fancy little cross-over dance steps from one side to the other. And we often spend the bulk of our time in the most awkward, inaccessible corners, because these are the places that patients’ miss. So nurses have to be adept at thinking on their feet and being versatile if they are aspirating for hygienists.

Having said that we are possibly more fun! And less serious, just in order to make the patients feel comfortable. But how do we negotiate for a nurse? And who is responsible for training and vetting them?

I have always preferred to work on my own because a third person in the room changes the dynamics with the patient. An important part of our job is to unearth information that the patient may not share if there is someone else present. I try to ‘feel my way’ with some of them and cannot do this with a nurse who is not empathetic.

A good nurse is like another pair of hands but what if she bangs and clatters around when I’m trying to explain things quietly to new patient, or treat a timid, nervous one? That is not exactly helpful, and if we have to constantly check up on what a clumsy nurse is doing with her aspirator how can we give our undivided attention to the patient?

On the other hand, as a mature hygienist I have become slower and cannot race around between patients as I once did. A helping hand is very welcome in keeping me on schedule.

Only in recent years have I been offered a nurse, for that to happen I had to forgo a pay rise. I am now assisted for four of my seven hours a day and if we are compatible I can focus more on my work and achieve a higher standard especially if they can pick up on the needs of the patient, whether I need their help or if they can empty the sterilizer.

What are your views on this? Let us know your tips.

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