Hygienists and tooth-whitening

June 1, 2003
During a recent office consultation, I listened while a patient of record explained to the hygienist that she was excited about her whiter teeth.

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH

During a recent office consultation, I listened while a patient of record explained to the hygienist that she was excited about her whiter teeth. The hygienist, who had been seeing this patient for several years, was shocked when the patient told her she had gone to "a friend's dentist to have her teeth whitened." The hygienist asked the patient why she went to another office for the procedure. The patient replied that "she did not think they offered tooth-whitening in the office because no one had ever mentioned it to her." Later, the hygienist told me that she was in a state of shock. She said she did not discuss tooth-whitening with the patient because, in the past, the patient had seemed disinterested in comprehensive dentistry. For that reason, the hygienist assumed that the patient would have no interest in a cosmetic procedure.

What an eye-opener for this hygienist! She learned that she could not — nor did she have the right — to make these assumptions for her patients. While each member on the dental team needs to be enthusiastic and well-versed in discussing the benefits of contemporary aesthetic dentistry, the hygienist is in a unique position to assist patients in appreciating the benefits of aesthetic procedures such as tooth whitening. Because the hygienist sees the patient on a continuum — every three, four, or six months — personal and professional relationships develop. Patients often look to the hygienist for help in decision-making and ask for feedback after the dentist has made a treatment recommendation. "Do I really need that?" "What do you think?" are frequently asked questions.

Here are some practical and easy ways for hygienists to discuss tooth- whitening with their patients. Asking open-ended questions gives patients the opportunity to think about the appearance and color of their teeth and the impact this may have on their appearance and their personal or professional life. For example, the hygienist might say:

"I am so excited about the dentistry we offer. I would love to share with you some of the incredible results we are seeing with our patients who whiten their teeth."

Statements like this help to establish personal and nonthreatening rapport (because it is the truth!). Prompt a great listening conversation with the patient by asking, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about your teeth and your smile? Have you ever considered the possibility of a brighter smile?" Additional ideas include offering gift certificates for tooth-whitening and promote them with the message, "Give the gift of love that lasts." What a terrific Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's.Day, Father's Day, or birthday gift! I recently saw this sign in the reception area of a dental practice: "For less than a dollar per day, you can have a brighter smile. Please ask us about tooth-whitening." Signage is important in the practice, as well as messages about your services in office correspondence, newsletters, brochures, or even on the bottom of patient statements.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and visual patient material is crucial. "Before" and "after" photos, framed professionally and placed strategically on walls in the treatment rooms and reception area; photo albums of real patients with good results placed on coffee tables (not buried in drawers or on shelves); and intraoral camera and video-imaging systems all work well to allow the patient to "see the possibilities."

Today, Americans are much more health and appearance conscious. More than 15 percent of the $2-billion toothpaste market consists of sales for whitening toothpastes. With the comfortable, inexpensive, and noninvasive procedures available today, there is no reason why every patient should not have the opportunity for a bright smile. Hygienists are in a unique position to positively and enthusiastically disseminate the information and gain case acceptance.

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH, is a recognized leader in the field and an award-winning speaker and consultant. Since 1989, she has presented more than 250 seminars and consulted in dental practices throughout the world. She is a featured speaker at dental meetings and provides in--office consulting services with her team of business and clinical consultants. She may be reached at her Web site at AnnetteLinder.com, via email at [email protected], or by phone at (804) 745-6015.

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