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Back to brush: You can empower your patients to form better back-to-school oral care habits

Aug. 4, 2016
Helping parents help their kids form good oral care habits can be a challenge. Good news: the back-to-school rush is one of the best time to cement new habits.
As if dancing to the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” by Andy Williams, some parents are skipping through the school supply aisle with smiles on their faces. It’s that time of year again—the kids are going back to school. This time of year brings mixed emotions. Like the opera, some people love it and some people hate it. If parents love or hate this time of year, they have one thing in common: Routine is coming like a freight train.

New schedules bring with them a chance of renewal and examination of our daily routines. We can look at how to help the routine become effortless and even try something new to make life a little easier. Hygienists have the opportunity especially around this time of year to really engage with tier patients that are in the moment of making their routine. This also occurs right after New Year’s. People are trying to settle into a healthier routine to boost their overall well-being. This is not to say we do not have other opportunities year round to inspire and boost oral care routines, but with the school year coming, many people are rethinking their habits.

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“What’s for lunch?”

There are a couple of tips we can throw into the mix when talking to parents about their back-to-school squad. Nutrition and oral care are the top two topics that will be hot. Lunches and snacks are an ever-evolving craft. Gone are the days of the classic PB&J (which I still love). We are into bento boxes with a sea of Pintrest pins to inspire us. Speaking of Pintrest, there are a ton of healthy awesome lunch and snack ideas on Pinterest and YouTube for those of us that are clueless and have children who refuse to eat everything but plain pasta. These sites would be good to point out to caregivers when talking about sustaining healthy lunch and snack habits kids will actually like. They also have good healthy alternatives for breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

Hygienists are not nutritionists, but we do have a strong link to good nutrition and its correlation to excellent oral health, which makes us a prime outlet for discussing it with the patients and parents. By also encouraging the kids to look at these pins and get involved will increase their likelihood of actually eating their food. Also, this gives us an opportunity to educate patients about how food affects oral health. We can casually slide into patient education mode if we discover their breakfast is cola and crackers and their lunch is a sports drink and cheese puffs. While waiting for the examination, have a chairside app ready with these various nutritional options to show the patients and parents. By presenting the idea of using these sites for inspiration, you can encourage further at-home exploration and implementation of other healthy options. Sometimes they are just stuck and do not know where to turn for ideas.

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Creative ways to promote home care

Another huge push for routine is oral home care. This is our enchilada—our biggest goal and our success story if it can be accomplished. We want to shift the idea of oral health care from something that happens just in the dental practice to something that happens every day at home via an effortless everyday routine. How is this accomplished in a short period of time with a noncompliant teenager or child? It’s not easy, but there is one huge elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: Today’s ever-growing technology. There are a lot of different apps that are specifically for goal setting and targeted to inspire different ages. Another goal I feel is useful is a contract that is made between the office and the patient. Of course it’s a fun thing, not a formal business arrangement. For the patients that are really tough to inspire, this little task can really set the motion for success. Have some fun and get your boss on board.

It takes about four to six weeks for a routine to really stick. Make a rewards-based oral hygiene habit program for your patients to encourage consistency. This will have to include the parents help, so consider them too: a free electric toothbrush, free fluoride applications, or free whitening for the parents are good incentives. Yes, it is true we shouldn’t have to reward this behavior but sometimes parents are quite literally fighting with their kids and could use a little support. Even some hygienists struggle to motivate their kids! Consider the possibilities: At the end of the program, the kids fall into an awesome routine and the parents are now confident that their kids are actually healthy and caring about their teeth. That kind of success and marketing from positive word of mouth about the office cannot be bought . . . plus, the patients had fun while doing it.

Making a program to fit your office is fun, creative, and easy. It does not have to be elaborate, cost a lot of money, or even be time intensive. It could be simple but it has to have one key ingredient: human caring and communication. Throughout the program, make check-in calls, send postcards, or even texts. At the beginning, give the patients a fun contract and the supplies they will need to succeed. By boosting morale, your worst patients will become your best as you create a positive indirect learning routine. It is not easy to get patients motivated especially when they are so used to their summer schedule. Being a constant positive helper to them, not a dictator, will help them see that you are part of their solution and by the team to guide them into a smooth transition to the new school year. There is a really powerful quote that I saw this year on notebooks for the tweens and teens: Be the change you want to see in the world. It is an awesome an inspiring quote. Wouldn’t it be so uplifting to see change in six months or even sooner. Every hygienist is a light in the dark for so many patients they help. Go inspire someone today . . . be the reason they are smiling so confidently in this year’s school picture!

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