Think with me for a moment, if you will, 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. In my experience, most of the time that question sounds something like this, “How have you been doing with your brushing?” or “How many times a week do you floss?”
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. With that admission, they feel guilty because they really do know they should take better care of their teeth and gums.
Another scenario might be that the patient lies and tells you they brush and floss daily thinking that will buy them a reprieve and you won’t address their homecare. However, by lying, once again the patient feels guilty, because they were taught, probably by their mother not to lie when they were 3 or 4 years old. Either way, the golden hygiene hour just started off with a guilty patient who 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 this, “Tell me 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 get flossing in once a week. Do you every see pink (bleeding) 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 the answer is yes, “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 gums.”
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.