What Are They Saying on the Internet?
Monitoring what is being said concerning hygiene treatment on “chat” websites is eye-opening. Many times comments are full of misconceptions and are less than complimentary. The profession faces an up-hill climb when it comes to public perception of what we offer and what we do. Here are a few examples:
“I haven’t been to a dentist for a cleaning in over 20 years. I still have all my teeth, except for two molars that came out when I was still going to the dentist. I have all of my wisdom teeth without a problem. My teeth are straight, clean and white, so I think it is a big scam! My daughter does go to the dentist, but when they phoned today to confirm her appointment, I told them no teeth cleaning and no x-rays! They can just do a check-up and surface cleaning but no prodding and poking under the gums to “clean”. Loosening the gums around your teeth seems to be asking for food to come in and settle. X-rays have recently been linked to a very common form of brain cancer so I don’t really think it is necessary to have my child exposed to that every year. Her dentist said that she is lucky because she has very nice teeth. Because of that he wanted to coat her molars in plastic so they wouldn’t get any cavities. I told him to forget about it. He can get his money for his mortgage somewhere else.”
“I have been having my teeth cleaned on a regular basis for about eight years. I feel the more frequently I go for a teeth cleaning, the more quickly my teeth become stained. My hygienist says that this can’t be so, but what is the explanation?”
“My dentist’s office is not clean. The last time I was seated in the hygienist’s chair, I noticed the spotlight above my head was splattered with blood. I changed offices that day.”
“I value my dental check-ups but question seeing the hygienist frequently. I have always wondered if there’s any value to scraping hardened substances off my teeth. Perhaps plaque is actually a defensive layer provided by evolution. I have looked all over and I’ve yet to see a single study that indicates dental scaling has any health benefits.”
“My dentist wants me to have my teeth cleaned by the hygienist every four months; in part, I think, so he can max out my benefits. I don’t think I really need this.”
“Dentists are just as bad as vets for overcharging and unnecessary treatments!”
It is clear that at least in some cases, we are utilizing less than an effective approach in educating our patients about what is going on when they come in for their appointments. Let us assume that if a few people are making comments such as these, others may also be thinking these things. Therefore, when our patients come in for “check-ups and cleanings” it is a good idea to provide as much information as possible about what we are doing and why we are doing it.
The first comment above focused on several aspects of dental evaluation and treatment. He mentioned “cleaning under the gums”, “prodding and poking”, “x-rays causing brain cancer” and “coating teeth in plastic”. Explaining what a perio probing is for before performing the service is important. I typically show the patient the probe and describe it as a tiny ruler. I explain that in a healthy situation the ruler should only go down a couple of millimeters. Otherwise germs and deposits can build up and cause problems. I explain that once deposits are formed they can be harmful. I use an example of a crack in a cement driveway. The crack can let in moisture that can undermine the strength of the cement, with no way to know until the cement falls in. Similarly, bacteria can undermine the strength of the bone and root of a tooth. It isn’t sensible to let the bone and root fail if there is a way to know ahead of time, hence perio probing and taking steps to correct the problem.
As for “cleaning under the gums” I mention that deposits hurt the attachments holding the teeth into the mouth. I say that it would be like having splinters under all of your fingernails. Removing the splinters allows for the tissues to regain health, even if you have had them so long you don’t notice them anymore.
With regard to radiographs, I use a lead chest and thyroid shield and explain that without x-rays the dentist cannot tell what is going on with a tooth. I use the example of taking a car to a mechanic and telling him to assess the motor without opening the hood!
“Coating teeth in plastic” can be explained with the concept of asphalt sealants. Road ways or parking lots last longer when their surfaces are protected. Tooth sealants can be described as functioning in a similar manner.
Having teeth cleaned often makes them stain more frequently? If a patient makes such a claim I would respond that it might be that teeth look so much “cleaner” after a prophy that new stains are more evident to a person.
Removing deposits making teeth less healthy? Plaque being a defensive layer? I use the fingernail example again. If a person never cleans under his nails, the dirt and grime will eventually cause an infection. The build-up will not protect him from germs, but can provide an environment for germs to grow.
Frequent “cleanings” being a scam? Careful explanations as to why more frequent cleanings or scaling and root planing is necessary are important. Patient education brochures can help. Use them!
Blood on the light? No excuse for this. Clean all surfaces in the treatment room carefully between patients!
I have never had a patient compare a dental office to a veterinary clinic, so this is a new one. I would say that both probably have the best interests of their patients at heart.
Our patients do not look at dental care in the same way as we do. Education is a key function of the dental hygienist. Understanding that there may be misconceptions can help us be ready with explanations that may help.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.Forward this article to a friend
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