“Don’t make me feel guilty!” Consider changing your tone with hygiene patients

What if we could completely avoid the possibility of the patient feeling guilty and instead create an opportunity for patients to feel good about themselves?

Woman Wagging Finger

By Kim Miller, RDH
May 21, 2013

Woman Wagging FingerThink about the first few minutes of a typical hygiene visit. We seat and greet the patient and, while doing so, we typically ask about their homecare. Most of the time that question sounds something like, “How have you been doing with yourbrushing and flossing?” or “How many times a week do you floss?”

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The patient often responds with a confession of sorts, admitting that they don’t floss or brush nearly as much as they know they should and they feel guilty. Sometimes the patient liesand tells you they brush and floss daily so you won’t bother them about their home care. Then they feel guilty since they were probably taught by their mother not to lie when they were three or four years old. Either way, the golden hygiene hour just started off with a guilty patient who likely either confessed or lied.

What if we could completely avoid the possibility of the patient feeling guilty and instead create an opportunity for patients to feel good about themselves? What if we asked a question like, “What you do on a daily basis to take care of your teeth and gums?” Now the patient has a chance to brag on their homecare efforts.

Here’s the tricky part: regardless of what the patient tells you, pay them a compliment and ask another question. “That’s great – I’m so glad you floss once a week. Many of my patients don’t floss at all. Do you ever see blood in the sink?” If no, compliment them again. “That means you’re doing a great job in all the areas you can effectively reach. I am going to check the areas you can’t reach to be sure they are healthy too.”

If they reply that they do sometimes see blood in the sink, ask, “Can you tell me where the bleeding is coming from? I’m going to be very careful during my evaluation to determine why you are seeing signs of infection in your mouth.”

Either way, this is no longer a guilty patient. This patient is reassured by your professionalism and may even feel proud of their efforts; after all you just paid them a homecare compliment, which is more rare than you might think.

Don’t be critical, be encouraging. You’ll get a much more positive response from your patients.

Kim Miller

Kim Miller, RDH, BSDH, is the co-founder of PerioFrogz.com, an information-based website providing free current oral-systemic research summaries and patient education downloads. Kim is also a coach with Inspired Hygiene, delivering customized, hands-on training. She speaks internationally, writes articles and webinars, and enjoys clinical dental hygiene. Kim lives in Arizona and welcomes you to contact her at kimmillerkrm@gmail.com.

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