Changing four misconceptions

Oct. 1, 2000
Patients have their own perceptions and expectations about the dental "cleaning" appointment. Most patients are used to being seen by the hygienist every six months, receiving their cleaning, exam, and the usual lecture about needing to floss more. Despite the moaning and groaning, most patients find this experience tolerable and, in many cases, even enjoyable.

Beverly Maguire, RDH

Patients have their own perceptions and expectations about the dental "cleaning" appointment. Most patients are used to being seen by the hygienist every six months, receiving their cleaning, exam, and the usual lecture about needing to floss more. Despite the moaning and groaning, most patients find this experience tolerable and, in many cases, even enjoyable.

As we begin to alter the typical cleaning visit, patients are forced to change as well. Changes in our professional standards, which are driven by new research, have altered the way we practice. Patients now are expected to be partners in the process of treating and maintaining periodontal conditions, as well as the home care required to stabilize the disease.

Change is a normal part of life. As much as we resist it, it doesn`t stop! Our patients can - with gentle education delivered in patient-friendly terms - adapt and thrive in the midst of our changing protocols in dental care. Let`s look at four misconceptions patients have:

- "Flossing removes food trapped between the teeth." Because most patients don`t trap food between their teeth, they don`t get too overly concerned about the flossing issue.

The urgency to use dental floss is mainly driven by guilt feelings associated with thinking about their next dental visit.

Our patients must be taught that bacteria remains just under the gum tissue, where the toothbrush will not reach. It is the bacteria that causes bleeding gums, bone loss, and loss of teeth. These bacteria can be removed by dental floss - but only if patients are properly instructed in flossing technique and monitored with the floss in their own hands on a regular basis.

- "Teeth should be brushed every day." Patients are very concerned about brushing their teeth. As we know, dental plaque sits at the gum line.

Most patients do not understand the value of brushing their tissue for proper plaque removal and stimulation. Hands-on brushing instruction by the hygienist - reproduced by the patient - is very effective and must be reviewed periodically. The facial and lingual aspect of much of the dentition is self-cleansing. The cervical third of the tooth is not. Patients need to know how and why to brush their "gums."

- "Bleeding is normal," or "My gums have always bled." Healthy gums don`t bleed. Just as our fingernails do not normally bleed when gently cleaned, neither should our gums. Because most patients have never had healthy gums, they are quite skeptical of this information. With proper education, treatment, and feedback, they begin to believe!

- "Because I go to the dentist every six months, everything is fine." Patients believe that by coming in for their appointments every six months, all is well. However, just showing up is not enough. Patients must play a key role in managing their oral health. Patient home-care efforts are 80 percent of our success or failure in managing the periodontal patient.

Often, we are not properly informing patients of their periodontal status. In many cases, without complete periodontal charting, we are not even fully aware of their actual status. This may leave us vulnerable to legal problems down the road. All patients should be charted on a regular basis and informed of their status and options for care in terms they can understand.

Think about your patients` perspective of dental "cleaning" visits. Unless we understand their perception, we cannot educate them to accept our changing standards and treatment protocols. Do your patients know what you know about their periodontal status?

Beverly Maguire, RDH, is a practicing periodontal therapist. She is president and founder of Perio Advocates, a hygiene consulting company based in Littleton, Colo. She can be reached at (303) 730-8529 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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