In addition to the technical skills employed in the clinic, future dental hygienists must also master the more subtle skills needed to communicate effectively with patients and build trust.
Dr. Montgomery has taught Human Behavior 310, “Interactional Skills in Dental Hygiene,” at the USC School of Dentistry for more than 20 years and knows how important such skills are for dental hygienists. They face the challenge of building solid, trusting relationships with patients while caring for a very personal but vital region of the body – all while confronting obstacles such as past dental fears and an often-unfriendly portrayal of dentistry in popular culture.
A dental hygienist is a health care provider that patients see on a regular basis. They build trust and rapport over time, and they can act as an ambassador for the entire dental office. We want to elevate the perception about a profession that is interested in doing good work for their patients.
Dr. Montgomery’s nine week course covers a wide range of subjects, from building patient rapport, using nonverbal and verbal chair-side communication and making health information understandable, to assuaging fear, dealing with stress and managing other complex patient situations. Students participate in discussions and hands-on learning situations, such as role-playing, in order to understand the basic theory behind productive, positive patient relationships.
Montgomery’s students started the course with a small amount of clinic experience already under their belts. One of his students, Shawna Conlon is anxious to apply the techniques she’s learned from the course in her clinical practice and soon she will have had her first patient since the course began.
“I am excited to apply what we have learned so far,” Conlon said. “I am also looking forward to critiquing myself and being able to ask about my patient experiences in class. We are able to discuss interactions as long as we uphold HIPAA standards, this is very helpful so that the whole class can participate, and the overall we learn so much more.”
“Up until now, the majority of our classes have been based on clinical hands-on skills such as probing, scaling and diagnosis,” said another student, Kim Collins. “We’ve been seeing patients in the clinic since February, and I’ve learned first hand how important relating and communicating with my my patients has been. Gaining rapport is so important to earning a patient’s trust – being open, honest, and respectful toward them is necessary in giving them the best treatment possible.
Dr. Montgomery believes in the professional and personal nature of Dental Hygienists and knows what a valuable piece they play in a patient’s well-being. He is proud to play a role in continuing to develop the next generation of dental professionals.