August 25, 2023
by Gabriele Maycher, CEO, GEM Dental Experts Inc. BSc, PID, dip DH, RDH

Are flawed processes holding your team back from experiencing better efficiency, healthier clients, happier employees, and continued practice growth?

Can a hygienist be ‘too rough?’ It depends on which client you ask.

Challenge: As a dentist, I take pride in having an exceptional team of dental hygienists. Nevertheless, one team member consistently receives a high number of client complaints, which is affecting her booking rate. The main issue clients raise is that they perceive this hygienist as “too rough” during appointments. How do I address this matter tactfully, as the team member is highly valued, while ensuring a positive client experience?

Solution: I’ve heard this complaint from my own clients – and I have nearly four decades of practice experience! When clients mention that a hygienist is “too rough,” it raises questions about whether the hygienist is, in fact, providing a more thorough and effective cleaning, ultimately doing a better job. Conversely, clients who loved a “gentle” hygienist might have had undiagnosed issues lurking beneath the surface, such as deep subgingival calculus and disease progression.

Ultimately, as dental professionals, our goal is to strike a delicate balance between being gentle enough to make clients feel comfortable and thorough enough to ensure optimal oral health and uphold your reputation as trusted dental professionals. To truly understand this situation, we need to identify the contributing factors. Is it a matter of communication, demeanor, client preference, or technique that leads to such varying feedback from clients?


Effective communication plays a vital role in the client experience. Clients may perceive a hygienist as “too rough” if the clinician fails to adequately explain the procedures or address client concerns during the appointment. On the other hand, a hygienist who is overly gentle might not effectively communicate the importance of thorough cleaning, leading to missed diagnoses. My recommendation: Gather and analyze client-specific feedback.

Demeanor and Manner

A hygienist’s approach and demeanor can significantly impact the client’s comfort level. Some clients may prefer a friendly and reassuring demeanor, while others might prioritize efficiency and a no-nonsense approach. Balancing these different preferences can be challenging. My recommendation: Provide constructive feedback and coaching once you understand the client’s concerns.

Client Preferences

Individual preferences can vary widely, and what one client considers “too rough,” another might view as a thorough cleaning. Understanding and accommodating individual client needs are essential for providing personalized care. My recommendation: At the end of the appointment ask the client how the appointment went and who is their preferred hygienist.


How do we find a balance between providing a thorough cleaning and ensuring client comfort? Hygienists should be mindful of several crucial elements in their approach:

  • Gentle tissue manipulation: This is essential during probing and debridement. Being too heavy-handed can lead to discomfort and even pain for the client. By employing a delicate touch, hygienists can enhance client comfort significantly.
  • Probing technique: Hygienists should be cautious not to apply excessive force during probing. Utilizing a light, controlled probing technique ensures an accurate assessment of the periodontal condition without causing unnecessary discomfort to the client.
  • Consideration of inflammation: Prior to any intra-oral transaction, it is essential to assess the level of inflammation present in the client’s oral tissues. Adjusting the approach based on the extent of inflammation can help minimize discomfort during the procedure.
  • Effective local anesthesia: When necessary, hygienists should not hesitate to use local anesthesia to numb sensitive areas before performing certain procedures. Deferment of probing until the client is anesthetized can significantly improve the overall client experience.
  • Avoid rushing: Taking adequate time with each client is crucial to avoid rushing through procedures, which may inadvertently result in rough handling. Being mindful of pacing can enhance the quality of care and reduce discomfort for clients. Slow down!

My recommendation: Continuous professional development. Regularly engaging in professional development opportunities can help hygienists refine their manual dexterity skills and stay updated with the latest techniques and tools for gentle yet effective treatments.

It’s clear that addressing this client complaint requires a comprehensive approach that will help you build a well-rounded team of hygienists who can adapt to individual client preferences while maintaining high standards of care.

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