Dental hygienist and practice principal, Joanne Knox, explains how she came to open her own hygiene-only practice and why other hygienists and therapists with drive and determination should aim to do the same.
Many hygienists can only dream of the day when they own their dental hygiene practice, but with hard work and dedication, this dream is becoming a reality for those who are determined to pioneer independent access to hygiene care.
Since I was a child, it was my dream to become a dental hygienist, to build up lasting relationships with patients and help educate them on the need and benefits of regular hygiene treatment. Of course, back then there was never any likelihood of owning my own hygiene practice and I was fortunate to go on to work for many years in a practice that was very accepting and proactive about dental hygiene, but little did I realise that a significant change was on the horizon.
That change came in 2013 when the GDC (General Dental Council) removed its barriers to Direct Access to allow dental hygienists and therapists to see patients directly without the need for a referral from a dentist. I saw this as a unique opportunity for hygienists like myself to become a more accessible independent entity and I wanted to be one of the first hygienists in the country to set up my own surgery.
Taking the first steps
The thought of starting my own hygiene practice was daunting to say the least, but I wanted my independence and managed to find a building I felt was ideal in Coleraine, County Londonderry, close to my family and friends. Unfortunately, at the same time my mum was taken seriously ill and looking after her took precedence over anything else, so I thought no more about.
My mum sadly died in August 2020, but unbeknown to me she left money specifically in her will so I could go ahead with pursuing my dream independently. The building I wanted was still available so knowing this is what she would have wanted, I decided to go for it. Without question I was extremely fortunate to have this unexpected financial support, but I was already prepared to put everything I had on the line to start up my practice and I would much prefer that my mum was still around to see it happen!
There’s no escaping the fact that the level of investment needed to set up a practice is significant, especially when you’re starting from scratch. But if you have the determination to succeed, a sound business plan and take advantage of the help and support available for new business start-ups then you too can live the dream.
After signing for the building we started renovation work in October 2020, and just to add to the pressure, all under lockdown restrictions. Despite having a focus and an endgame, nothing was ever straightforward and I found myself on a steep learning curve like no other.
One notable benefit of opening during the pandemic was that I was able to design the practice in a completely different way to how I would have done a few years ago. I have two surgeries which means I can alternate to allow for fallow time, air filtration systems have been installed and there is a ‘donning and docking’ room with a washing machine and tumble drier so all our gowns can be washed and changed for each new patient.
In the current climate there’s a renewed focus on scrupulous hygiene measures to protect patients and staff from any risk of infection. I have purchased an NSK iClave plus autoclave which is ideal for fast instrument sterilisation plus it has a USB data logger which means I can download and store all cycle data for total traceability.
I rely mainly on ultrasonics for my work and for that reason I use the NSK Varios Combi Pro. I love the Varios because of its power settings. It’s easy to move between surgeries, there’s a wide variety of tips available and you can change power settings and the air/water flow which patients find gentler and easier to manage.
My advice to anyone starting their own practice is to partner with an equipment manufacturer such as NSK who offers local product support to guide you through, especially with any early teething problems. If any of my equipment breaks down for whatever reason I can’t work – this is my bread and butter so to have that sort of backup available to me is invaluable.
Being your own boss
Opening Pure Dental Hygiene has been my dream, and despite the challenges I really do feel I’m living it – I have no regrets so far! The acceptance from other local dentists has been overwhelmingly positive and the idea of a dental hygienist practicing without the oversight of a dentist is a concept that is definitely gaining traction.
My patient base is growing fast and my aim is to grow a successful business in which I’m respected and seen as a centre of excellence within the industry, known for the quality of patient care we provide in a clean, modern and friendly environment. I have a tremendous amount of pride in the work that I do and I want dentists to see the services I offer as an advantage and not a threat. If I can do this – then other hygienists and therapists can certainly do the same.
Do you want to learn more about opening an independent dental hygiene/therapy practice? Join the NSK Ikigai LIVE webinar on Thursday 7th October 2021 at 7.30pm to hear Joanne Knox and fellow hygienists and therapists discussing the 5 key steps to consider when opening a stand-alone practice, how they’ve opened and developed their own successful practices and specialist financial advice on how to obtain the planning and finance to deliver your dream.
For more information and to register visit mynsk.co.uk/ikigai-webinars
About the Author
Joanne Knox is a dental hygienist and practice principal at Pure Dental Hygiene in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
Company Director and Principal Hygienist at Pure Dental Hygiene NI
14 Sandel Village
Coleraine BT52 1WW