Make a New Year's resolution to have healthier patients!

January 11, 2017

What resolutions did you make in this New Year? Make sure that you include your patients' health in your to-do list!

After all the season shopping and holiday dinners, and cakes and cookies, as the New Year approaches, we are all making New Year’s resolutions. What about losing weight? What about finally buying that car? How about asking for a raise?

Many hygienists use this time of year to reevaluate their options to make a fresh new start for the coming year. But these are all our own personal resolutions. As dental hygienists, let’s make a resolution to make sure every patient’s teeth outlasts them so they can take their pearly whites through those pearly gates.

Read more: 5 dental New Year's resolutions

“Taking your pearly whites through those pearly gates”-many seniors love this saying. I recently had a patient who was 95 years old, and I quoted that to her. She then said, “I am so happy, because it won’t be much longer. I am 95 now.”

So I ask you, are you taking the time to review their dental hygiene? They may only need a little bit of coaching to change their oral hygiene from fair to great. I’ve tried this approach, and it has worked time and time again. Never complete a silent prophy, because if you do, every patient will come back with the same level of oral hygiene. If you are the new hygienist, the patient will simply say, “She told me that the last time,” and there will be no change at this appointment either. The moral of the story is that a little coaching goes a long way.

Another patient I’ll never forget is Dave, who said he only flosses when he eats steak. After cleaning his teeth-covered in heavy plaque and tartar-I reviewed his oral hygiene and jokingly told him that if it meant he would floss more, he needed to eat steak every day! Fortunately, for his next appointment, Dave’s teeth were cleaner and healthier. He also noticed his gums didn’t bleed like before. While he didn’t eat steak every day, but he did take my suggestion to start flossing daily. This was just a little habit change in his hygiene routine that would last a lifetime.

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With that in mind, schedule your appointments so you not only have enough time do a thorough cleaning, but also enough time to instruct patients on their daily oral habits. Patients will always compliment you when they feel they have been given quality service-and that you care.

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I always talk to my patients during cleanings, not about personal issues, but on areas that need more attention in their mouths. Maybe while brushing, they are missing their back upper molars or lower anteriors. You may even need to demonstrate in their mouth, with either a toothbrush or floss, on how to clean some of those harder to reach areas. I’ll usually have a mirror available, so that they can see what I am doing.

Smokers and heavy red wine drinkers may also require an electric toothbrush, so feel free to discuss the many models available. Elaborate on some of the features that come with them as well. Who knows, they may just order it straight from Amazon while in your chair if they feel it will help. I’ve had this happen countless times. On the other hand, smokers may smoke less, quit or come in more often to reduce the stains. Either way, you have improved both their medical health and oral hygiene.

Related article: When should you add more hygiene time?

Now with red wine drinkers, one patient of mine suggested she drink her wine through a straw. I was flustered by this, and so I asked, “Who does that, really? Just get an electric toothbrush and you’ll be fine.” So she agreed. Had I not taken the time to ask questions about her oral hygiene though, she would have come back with the same exact stain.

However, let’s not forget about the patients who want nothing to do with a fancy electric toothbrush, and only admit to flossing twice a week, due to being too busy or just not wanting to. Tell them how their oral health can also affect their overall medical health and, courtesy of the American Dental Association, point to brochures to further back your claim.

Read more: 9 important tips for communicating with your patients

As you can see, if you take the time to ask your patients questions, it will not only save you time on their next appointment, but also bring them back better every time. Again, a little coaching goes a long way. And remember, it’s not just a cleaning. You are trying to be sure that their teeth outlast them. Make it a resolution this year!