Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 11 Cuspidor 1

Troubleshooter: How to handle disgusting patient noises at cuspidor

July 17, 2021
How can this dental hygienist politely handle the disgusting noises some patients make while spitting in the cuspidor?

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: We have a few patients who, when asked to rinse, make the most disgusting noises. They are so loud they can be heard throughout the entire clinical area. It sounds like they're hacking up hairballs. I won't describe how revolting it is to clean the cuspidor after these patients. I feel bad for the other patients who have to listen to this disgusting noise, and it totally grosses me out. I've been tempted to ask them to stop but I don't know if that would be rude of me.

ANSWER FROM ANY SMITH, Amy Smith Consulting:
I can understand why this is stressful for you, and I'm sure you’re not alone. Let's look at possible solutions:

  • Can you talk to your employer about upgrading your equipment to a newer model that eliminates the cuspidor? He or she might be able to take advantage of a 179 tax exemption on new equipment. Your equipment representative or tax accountant can help with this.
  • If not, is there a way to add some sort of sound proofing to your operatory? Perhaps music or some other kind of noise reduction option? I understand this doesn't help you much, but it would benefit other patients in the office.
  • Is there something else you can do to help patients rinse better or easier? For instance, when seating patients, show them the control, usually a button, that allows them to refill their cup when rinsing. This ensures they know the’re not limited to just one cup of water.

You may have thought of these possible solutions already, and if so, the answer rests with your doctor. Make sure he or she understands your concerns, especially as it relates to other patients, who might not be saying anything but are likely uncomfortable about the noises as well. But they can walk away. You cannot. Good luck!

ANSWER FROM JAN KELLER, Jan Keller and Associates:

I can certainly understand how this might be an uncomfortable situation for you. Here are my thoughts:

  • Is there a need to upgrade your equipment? It's not possible to tell how old it is from your question, as even some newer units include cuspidors. Start there with your employer, whom I'm sure would be sympathetic to your situation and interested in the overall comfort of all patients.
  • You mention you have “a few patients” who do this, which makes me think you know who they are, and you can possibly get ahead of the problem. When you talk to them, be very specific about how they rinse, for instance, tell them "gently,” "a little at a time,” or “use small amounts of water and repeat often.” Make sure there is adequate water available to them.
  • Can you offer more suction/cleaning before rinsing? Would it help if the patients stood to rinse their mouth at the sink?
  • Does this bother any other team members? If so, that's even more reason for your employer to help you find a solution.

While I know this is probably not an everyday occurrence, if it is affecting the comfort of your team and other patients, it should be addressed as soon as possible. Not acting can be costly in terms of patients who simply leave and never come back, and offer no explanation.

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Originally published in 2016 and updated regularly.

About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

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