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End-of-the-Day Schedule

Our nonclinical staff members want to close the office and leave the minute the last patient is gone. They don’t understand that we need to clean the operatories/sterilize instruments prior to leaving. Is this a legal issue?

Most dental offices consist of a team of personnel with varying job responsibilities. These staff members may include front desk and staff, insurance specialists, office managers, dental assistants, dental hygienists, and dentists who all have individual roles and obligations. A dental office will run more efficiently and more enjoyably when the dental team understands each other’s responsibilities and realizes that everyone in the office plays an important role in the success of the entire team.

For dental hygienists, much of their day is spent providing direct patient care. In addition, there is preparation and clean-up work that is required at the beginning and end of each day along with the preparation required before and after each patient. Although a workday can, for example, start at 8:00 am and end at 5:00 pm, the dental hygienist simply does not clock in and out at those times. Dental hygienists typically arrive early to prepare for the day, which includes reviewing scheduled patient records, preparing instrument trays, disinfecting, stocking, setting up operatories, and participating in office huddles.

The end of the day in a dental office is also a busy time. Although nonclinical staff may have the opportunity to leave shortly after patients are out of the office, dental hygienists usually remain to complete a variety of tasks, such as completing clinical notes, disinfecting the operatory, addressing water lines, sterilizing instruments, and prepping for the following day.

If nonclinical staff or even the dentist leaves the office once patients are dismissed, there are no legal issues if the dental hygienist remains in the office continuing to work. Legalities only play a role when patient care is involved. Those legalities, which are detailed in most state’s dental practice acts, require dental hygienists to practice under some level of supervision and include rules that accompany those levels. When dental hygienists remain in the office to complete nonclinical tasks, no laws or rules are being violated.

However, some level of ill will may exist due to staff leaving the office before others or, conversely, all staff having to stay until all team members have completed their tasks. Understanding and accepting each dental team member’s role and responsibilities and expectations in the office are imperative for a professional and collegial environment.

Cross training and working together as a team can benefit the overall health of any practice and create an environment that is collaborative, respectful, and fun. Simply asking, “What can I do to help?” to all members of the dental team can be extremely beneficial. In doing so, everyone in the office can leave in a timely manner, or if the reality is the dental hygienist stays in the office to work, the gesture is appreciated.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. April/May 2024; 22(3):46

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