By Pam Swain, BADN Chief Executive

A recent survey into dental nursing support for hygienists and hygienists-therapists[1] has concluded that “the presence of a registered, trained and competent dental nurse ensures best practice”.

The survey, carried out by Amanda Gallie, Alistair Lomax and Emma Pacey, and reported on in the July 2011 edition of “Dental Health”, also shows that one third of respondents had experienced back/neck/musculo-skeletal problems in the last three years and 9% had had time off work with stress related issues in the last three years.  Disappointingly, the survey does appear to have cross referenced these figures with those regarding dental nurse support, so doesn’t actually show whether those working with a dental nurse had fewer such problems than those working without.

Only 37% of hygienist/therapist respondents had full time dental nursing support, whilst a further 36% had part time support.  The majority of those with full time support were based in the North West of England and the authors conclude that this may be due to there being five schools of hygiene and therapy in this region; however, they do make the point that the final decision on whether to provide dental nurse support is made by the employer.

The “Dental Health” article states that hygienists/therapists working with dental nurse support “experience greater clinical efficiency….. could maintain good posture and prevent twisting and subsequent back pain….. feel more relaxed having chaperone present  (allowing them) to concentrate on the patient and worry less about planning ahead for the next patient’s arrival.”  Apparently having dental nurse support also reduces “feelings of exhaustion and isolation”.

Some of the comments from hygienists/therapists surveyed included:

“The help of a nurse improves my cross infection control, recording of indices, feelings of isolation, exhaustion, raises my profile and gains me respect from the patients.”

“A dental nurse is a crucial chaperone and emotional support alleviating my stress”

“I also have a third party present which is reassuring from a legal point of view”

“The nurse is an extra pair of eyes to watch the patient and provide reassurance”

In response to the questions “How does a nurse enhance your working day?”,  the  highest scoring themes were improvements in efficiency, less stress and exhaustion and more time available to spend with the patient.

The survey also considered the views of the General Dental Council (“Principles of Dental Team Working”, points 3.7 and 3.8):

“When treating patients, make sure there is someone else – preferably a registered team member – present in the room, who is trained to deal with medical emergencies.  There may be circumstances in which it is not possible for a trained person to be present.  If this is the case, you are responsible for assessing the possible risk to the patient of continuing with treatment in the absence of a trained person.”

The authors also sought the views of the British Dental Association, the Dental Defence Union and Dental Protection – as both provide indemnity cover for hygienists and therapists -but not, surprisingly, the British Association of Dental Nurses or WRB who provide indemnity cover for dental nurses!   So much for team work……….

It is also notable that the authors refer throughout to “nurses” – a term which strictly speaking refers to general nurses registered with the NMC.  The correct term would of course be “dental nurses” – a term which should always be used when referring specifically to those registered with the GDC.

[1] Gallie, A, Lomax, A & Pacey, E.  An investigation into nursing support and the Dental Hygienist and the Dental Hygienist – Therapist.  Dental Health 2011; Vol 50, July: 8-11

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