Dedication to Patient Education

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In the world of dentistry, being a hygienist requires you to be the best dental professional you can possibly be to care for your patients to the highest standards. Throughout my career, the things that have encompassed serving my patients to the highest standards have been educating my patients at EVERY appointment, thoroughly reviewing medical history in order to suggest appropriate oral solutions, and building a professional rapport that encourages the implementation of oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime. The best part is, doing so isn’t hard at all.

Verbally walking your patients through areas of the mouth that you see during your exam is crucial to bringing their mouth back to a much healthier state. For instance, many patients think they are brushing the correct way, however, as we all know, sometimes they just miss the mark. You can remedy this by simply outlining areas where they may have calculus buildup, or be more specific about other problems areas. For instance, you can inform them about where on the right side there is bleeding, inflammation, and unhealthy pocket depths. Presenting them with the possible consequences if they don’t brush properly or clean interdentally makes them more inclined to realize their periodontal condition will only get worse and cost much more money in the end than prevention otherwise would have. Patients need to see that you are firm on your findings when you have found areas that need improvement; only then will they make the proper, necessary changes.

Many patients will miss brushing and have more calculus on their lower anterior, so I generally show them this area with a hand mirror, especially if there is moderate-heavy buildup. I once had a patient, that I’ll call Jack, who said “Ethel, did you remove some of my teeth in the front?!” I said, “No. Jack, do you remember that thick wall of calculus buildup I showed you in the mirror? That’s what I removed.” We both laughed.

I then went on to tell him that he had been long overdue for his three-month recall due to his history of periodontal disease. He said he didn’t think it was important to come in more than once a year. I stated to him that it did matter; if he didn’t come to his three-month recalls to control disease-causing bacteria, his disease could progress, and his teeth could eventually become loose. He then thanked me and told me that he understood it now. When the dentist finally arrived, Jack told him that he had originally thought we had just wanted his money, but after having me explain the reasoning to him, he had finally got it and would be back in three months. He ended by saying that he wanted to keep his teeth, and the dentist reassured him he would.

As we all know, appointments aren’t simply a ‘buff and puff;’ multiple factors coincide, including recent medical history. As a result, don’t forego reviewing it thoroughly and asking about any new developments in a patient’s overall health. Be specific in with your health history questions. The dry mouth some may be experiencing could be due to new medications, undiagnosed sleep apnea, or diabetes. However, if we don’t ask, then we can’t discover the root of the problem and fix it.

In the example of dry mouth, the decrease in saliva is generally followed by increased decay. To treat this, I like to refer patients to several mouth rinses on the market to help moisturize their mouths. I’ll even suggest they try a sugar-free lozenge or gum to their liking. I also like to familiarize myself with any coupons or free samples the office has available, or if I have a computer in my room, I use it to show products I recommend, such as electric toothbrushes. Patients will love that you took the time to review their medical history and equip them with the right tools to improve their oral health.

Building a proper, professional rapport with your patient will not only show that you care but will also increase your value in the practice. Many will even specifically request you for their next visit. In offices where I frequently temp, patients will come back to their recall appointments and say, “Ethel, my teeth are much better since I last saw you, the hygienist before talked way too much about her personal life and not about the life of my teeth.” As such, it is paramount that you ensure every appointment is about the patient, and not about your personal life.

The level of communication you present is important for all ages, and even more so when dealing with children. For kids, I do a brushing demo and discuss my findings with their parents. I even had a parent watch me brush her son’s teeth because he was only brushing his front teeth at home. She said she had wondered why it only took him 30 seconds to brush. I told her that sealants would also help a great deal, even if her insurance wouldn’t cover it. She then added that no one had ever taken the time to show her the specific areas in need of improvement and what she could do as a mom to help. I ended the appointment by telling them both that I couldn’t wait to see his teeth in six months, and the boy flashed a big smile.

Becoming a great hygienist means not only caring about your patients but working to educate them while developing a professional rapport that shows your commitment to their overall oral health. Asking questions about their medical history will also help you to create solutions tailored to their personal needs. By practicing these simple steps, you will receive praise from every patient you treat in your chair and go on knowing that you’re not just providing a dental service, you’re providing the education for a lifetime of good oral hygiene.

SEE ALSO: Getting Patients to Understand the Importance of Medical Health History

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Ethel Hagans, RDH, MBA
Ethel Hagans, RDH, MBA, is passionate about giving back to the industry that has given her so much throughout her career. The genesis of which started in Germany, where she worked to develop a simple, yet effective, hygiene program for U.S. troops stationed there. She delivers insightful, home-hitting articles read by dental professionals worldwide. Her book, Motivating Dental Solutions, and articles have been featured in RDH Magazine, Dentistry IQ, and Modern Hygienist. She is a regular contributor on topics relating to, providing quality, not quantity, patient care. Ethel also volunteers for many charitable dental events, including North Carolina Missions of Mercy (NC MOM). For well over 27 years, Ethel has inspired her patients to improve their oral conditions and made it her mission to, “Make sure their pearly whites make it through those pearly gates.” Ethel’s book can be purchased at and she can be contacted through her website http://www.ethelhagans.com/.