Dental hygienists play a significant role in the care and comfort of patients visiting a dental office for routine or emergency care. In most cases, patients can expect to receive the highest quality care from dental hygienists and the dentists for whom they work. However, the human element of medical care in any capacity lays the groundwork for mistakes to be made, leaving some patients at risk of life-altering results. Although dentists are more prominently showcased when an error in dental care occurs, dental hygienists are just as apt to falter in the care they provide. Here are the four most common mistakes made by dental hygienists that have the potential to impact negatively patients seeking dental care.
Not Updating Medical History
One of the most overlooked steps in the patient care process is updating medical history. For most patients, guidelines suggest that the health history of a patient should be updated no less than once every three years, and more frequently should the individual have a complex past of medical issues. In practice, each time a patient visits a dental office, an up to date medical history should be gathered from the hygienist, asking patients if any changes have taken place since the last visit. Most individuals are not apt to share information without being prompting, making it necessary for hygienists to probe for information.
If any changes are discussed, the dental hygienist should update the file accordingly, including dates and treatment plans. Similarly, if the patient has not experienced any changes, a notation should be included in the file. Unfortunately, a growing number of patients visiting a dental office find it invasive when they are asked to complete a medical history form at each and every visit. This makes it necessary for dental hygienists to gather the appropriate information and complete a medical history update on behalf of the patient.
Failure to Detect Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is growing concern among patients and dental providers throughout the world, with more adults experiencing the medical issue than ever before. Dental hygienists work as the first line of defense against oral cancer, and as such, they should be performing a thorough intraoral and extraoral assessment for each patient at every visit. The process of removing plaque and buildup is what most patients come into a dental office for, but the rising prevalence of oral cancer makes it important to screen for the disease often.
While dental hygienists are not as qualified as dentists to recognize the signs and symptoms of oral cancer, they do have the ability to see what may be an abnormal issue in a patient’s mouth. Failing to detect oral cancer typically comes in one of four ways, according to a medical negligence firm specializing in the misdiagnosis of oral cancer in the UK. Errors in clinical judgment, like failing to perform a diagnostic test because the patient is not part of a high-risk group, and failure to follow up due to no tracking system or ensuring patients keep follow-up appointments are common instances of dental hygienist error. Similarly, not completing patient screenings for oral cancer and delays in evaluation can cause a missed or severely delayed diagnosis, leading to negative outcomes for the patient.
Missing Periodontal Disease
Within most dentist offices, hygienists are relied upon to identify areas of a patient’s mouth where periodontal disease is a pressing issue. This is generally done through a probing and recording process, but many hygienists fail to complete these tasks for patients during a visit. Screening for periodontal disease is recommended to be done at least once per year for all adult dental patients, and the process of probing to ensure no issues are present should be noted in a patient’s file each time is it done.
The last common mistake made by dental hygienists is patient injury incurred during a dental office visit. Unfortunate incidents of spilling chemicals on a patient, choking on a cleaning instrument, or causing a tear or cut to the mouth, cheeks, or gums range in severity across dental offices. In some cases, patients are not aware that an issue has occurred due to the effects of anesthesia during a visit until after a procedure or treatment is complete. When these common mistakes happen, dental hygienists have an obligation to immediately get help from the dentist or specialist in the office, as well as inform the patient of what took place. Any incidents should also be fully documented in a patient’s file, and appropriate referrals should be made if follow-up treatment for the injury is needed.
Overall, dental hygienists are a critical component of the dental care received by hundreds of thousands of adult patients each and every year, but as humans, the potential for mistakes looms. Dental hygienists can protect themselves from the liabilities that come along with errors on the job by knowing what mistakes are most common and the steps to take should a problem arise during a patient visit.