Even though they may not enjoy the experience, most people understand that it’s essential to see a dental hygienist in order to maintain healthy teeth and gums. But one thing many patients don’t realize is that it’s not enough to simply show up for their appointment, they need to be 100% truthful with their dental hygienist if they’re really going to benefit from their treatment.
As a dental hygienist, you want to do your best with every patient. But you can only provide top quality care if your patients are honest with you about their oral care habits. Getting patients to understand this concept is one of the trickiest parts of being a hygienist and is something almost every RDH experiences at some point in their lives.
If you’ve ever heard one of the below phrases and instantly had doubts, you’re not alone.
“I clean my teeth twice a day”
Dental hygienists can easily tell the difference between someone who thoroughly brushes their teeth twice each day and someone who hurriedly brushed their teeth five minutes before their appointment.
The color of gums, plaque build-up, presence of stains and tooth sensitivity are all clear indicators of how much someone brushes their teeth. If you can tell your patient isn’t a regular brusher, remind them of the importance of brushing twice a day for two minutes.
You can even suggest new toothbrushes and toothpastes for them to try. Mixing up their oral care routine might help them stick to it.
“I never drink coffee”
Half the US population drinks coffee, so it’s a fair assumption that the patient you’re treating is a coffee drinker. If they swear they never touch coffee, but the stains on their teeth are telling you otherwise, let them know that it’s fine for them to continue with their caffeine habit, but they could really benefit from cutting back a little.
Explain that reducing their caffeine intake would significantly improve the stains on their teeth and help them save a fortune on teeth whitening treatments. If they’re not willing to cut back, give them tips on how to prevent coffee stains, such as:
- Drink coffee through a straw.
- Avoid adding sugar and creamer.
- Drink coffee in one sitting, instead of small sips throughout the day.
- Have a glass of water after each cup of coffee.
- Brush their teeth no less than 30 minutes after drinking coffee.
“I’m not a smoker”
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. But not only is it the cause of a wealth of diseases which can plague your body, it also causes stained teeth, bad breath and gum disease. Most hygienists can spot a smoker instantly by the strong smell of tobacco.
Even if your patient has smoked for years, quitting cigarettes will improve their oral health and reduce their chances of developing gum disease followed by tooth loss. It’s never easy stopping smoking, but the health benefits are always worth it.
Try to help patients come up with some ideas which would help them cut back on cigarettes and eventually give them up for good. Nicotine replacement therapy, avoiding triggers, keeping busy, and finding solid motivation for quitting are all great ways to break bad habits.
“I always remember to floss”
Even though it’s so quick and easy to do, only 30% of the US population flosses daily. As a dental hygienist, you understand the great role flossing plays in reducing bacteria buildup, tooth decay, and cavities, but convincing your patients to do it daily can seem like an impossible task.
Patients who rarely floss have high levels of plaque and inflammation between their teeth, even if they’re regular brushers. So despite someone telling you they floss twice each day, the state of their gums will tell you the truth.
Instead of nagging your patient about the need to floss, try and sell them on the benefits of the healthcare habit instead. You could even make suggestions about how they can get into the habit of flossing, such as rewarding themselves with a treat each month or using a water flosser for a better experience.
“I don’t eat junk food”
A bad diet doesn’t just have a negative impact on our weight, it can also damage our teeth. Foods high in sugar can wear down tooth enamel, cause diabetes (which impacts gum health), and create cavities. The more junk food a person eats, the more they’ll have to spend when visiting their dental hygienist.
The occasional treat isn’t going to do anyone much harm. But consuming junk food on a daily basis can have disastrous effects on oral health. If you can’t convince your patient to give up their favorite foods, suggest other habits to incorporate into their lifestyle to lessen their negative affects.
Swapping high-sugar treats for sugar-free alternatives, brushing their teeth shortly after eating, and chewing sugar-free gum throughout the day are all great ways to maintain a healthy smile without feeling deprived.
How to deal with patients who hide the truth
Just as patients should never lie to their doctor, so too should they never lie to their dental hygienist. As an RDH, it’s your job to help your patients take care of their oral health and you can only do a good job when people are honest with you.
If you struggle with patients who don’t always tell the truth, it’s important you let them know the damage they could be doing to their overall health.
Stress that you’re not here to tell them off about their habits. Everyone forgets to floss or indulges in teeth-staining red wine from time to time. You’re here to help them adapt their damaging habits to promote a healthy mouth, and you can only do that when you know the truth.
By communicating truthfully with you, you can make helpful suggestions for your patients and treat them more accurately. It will also speed up their dental hygiene appointment so they can get back to doing things they enjoy instead of sitting in the dentist’s chair.