Twist in Dental Hygiene: Learning from Each Other for Patient Success

careers in dental dental hygiene dental hygienist importance of collaboration mentors in the dental industry Jun 27, 2022

What do you think of when you think of mentorship? 

Is mentorship all about learning?  

As students in hygiene school, we learn from our instructors and also from each other.  Sometimes, our hygiene instructors also become amazing mentors. They help us not only learn about clinical hygiene but also guide us to become ethical and caring oral health care clinicians. They guide us through the hard days and celebrate our successes. They help us love hygiene!

But when we graduate and begin practicing, learning changes. We complete onboarding in our new offices when joining a practice to learn processes. We complete our continuing education requirements for license renewal. We learn but are we still experiencing mentorship?

Maybe we are naturally life-long learners who thrive in professional growth opportunities. Or maybe we struggle with change or lack a passion for continuing education beyond the minimum requirements.

In dental hygiene, is learning the same as mentorship? The short answer is ‘no’. Learning is tied to training. As hygienists, we are trained in school and carry it into our offices upon graduation. On the other hand, mentoring is tied to professional development.  

Benefits of Mentorship in Dental Hygiene

 A good mentor can provide direction, playing an important role in professional growth. They can inspire, encourage, and provide positivity that enhances love for hygiene. Being involved in a mentorship program within your practice can enhance productivity, efficiency, and motivation within daily practice. 1.

Ultimately, more positivity, increased motivation, and professional growth means that we practice better dental hygiene for our patients. In fact, studies show that mentorship can directly improve patient care, especially when treating patients with special needs.2

Although the benefits are clear, what may be unclear is how to explore mentorship in new ways to boost its benefits.

Exploring Mentorship 

Mentorship can provide benefits to both mentor and mentee. By choosing to mentor, you can build your leadership skills, advance your career, and gain satisfaction in knowing you are making a positive difference. And by finding a mentor, you can find valuable practice tips and advice, gain new perspectives, enhance your clinical skills, and expand your professional network.3

Mentoring can occur organically between two people. But in many cases, exploring mentorship through an established program offers increased access and the best results. While traditional mentorship programs may focus on veteran clinicians who mentor new hygiene grads, new and exciting mentorship designs offer a twist on the traditional.

The Mentoring Twist

In healthcare, the term interprofessional collaboration is when “2 or more professions work together to achieve common goals and is often used as a means for solving a variety of problems and complex issues.”4

In dentistry, we may think of interprofessional collaboration occurring when dentists collaborate with specialists or physicians to resolve patient issues. But what if we consider using the idea of interprofessional collaboration within dental hygiene to apply it to mentorship?

Collaborative Mentorship Program

Dental hygienists come from all walks of life, have varying years of experience, are proficient in different aspects of dental hygiene practice, and have their own unique passions about being an RDH. So, working together through collaborative mentorship, hygienists from different professional backgrounds can work together to provide the highest quality of care to their patients.

The twist in this program is that oftentimes the mentor can also become the mentee as both begin to learn from each other. Consider how hygiene training has evolved over the years in terms of technology and access to care. While seasoned hygienists can often provide tips on hand scaling techniques, how to effectively handle complex patients, or efficient time management, newer hygienists can be mentors too. New graduates are often taught the newest techniques using the latest technology, are used to providing an EO/IA to each and every patient, and are very excited to have the letters RDH next to their names. 

Bringing Mentorship into Practice

Whether within your practice or something you may want to pursue on your own in a consulting role, developing a collaborative mentorship program provides a progressive path where hygienists can learn from each other’s strengths and gifts to offer a unique and exciting way to provide better patient care. 

A Collaborative Mentorship Program Template involves:. 

  • Planning - Identification of goals and establishment of ways to measure success. 
  • Collaboration - Recruitment of mentors/mentees who are seeking professional growth and development. Inclusion of various dental hygienists from dental specialties.
  • Communication - Establishment of communication channels that encourage an open mind and constant feedback as topics change over time.
  • Implementation - Implementation of a program that highlights clinical excellence with a focus on clinician well-being. 

By promoting high-level care in a positive atmosphere, collaborative mentorship offers hygienists, both mentors, and mentees a rewarding experience that leads to excellent patient care.


About the Author: Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.

Suzanne is a Registered Dental Hygienist in Central PA who works in private periodontal practice and at a local college as an adjunct dental hygiene faculty. After a thirty-year career in dental hygiene, Suzanne is now creating non-clinical projects involving professional enhancement, public health initiatives, and patient education. In addition to being a passionate dental practitioner, Suzanne enjoys teaching fitness classes such as Pilates and yoga, and volunteering with the local dog rescue Pitties.Love.Peace, and spending time with her family and their two rescued pit bulls, Rudy & Freya.


1. Schrubbe, Katherine F. “Mentorship: a critical component for professional growth and academic success.” Journal of dental education vol. 68,3 (2004): 324-8.

2. Lim, Mathew Albert Wei Ting et al. “Mentoring of oral health professionals is crucial to improving access to care for people with special needs.” PloS one vol. 17,4 e0266879. 25 Apr. 2022, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0266879

3. Mentoring. (n.d.). Mind Tools. 

4. Green, Bart N, and Claire D Johnson. “Interprofessional collaboration in research, education, and clinical practice: working together for a better future.” The Journal of chiropractic education vol. 29,1 (2015): 1-10. doi:10.7899/JCE-14-36