5.29.15 Issue #690 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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Four Things to Never Say to Patients
By Carol Tekavec RDH

Two of the most important (and often exhausting) components of dentistry are dealing with treatment explanations and handling patient questions. After a few years as a dental professional, a person can only get so excited discussing plaque! Even so, just like actors putting on a play day after day, we owe it to our “audience” to remain upbeat and enthusiastic about the information we give them. We have to guard against the urge to simply “phone it in” and watch what we say and how we say it to promote confidence and patient satisfaction.

Patients need to understand what is happening during their dental care. Most have very little preliminary knowledge about their mouth and teeth. To accept dental treatment, they need to know why they have developed a problem, how we intend to correct the problem, and what they need to do to maintain or prevent the problem from reoccurring. They need to be instructed in modern techniques and materials, diagnostic tools, and current thinking on periodontal issues. They should be brought up-to-date on links across the medical spectrum. The mouth is no longer separate from the rest of the body (even if it still is a stand-alone on most insurance plans).

While we are making our explanations, we should avoid a few statements:

1. “This won’t hurt”
While sedation and local anesthesia make most dental treatment relatively non-painless, there is still some discomfort involved in many dental procedures. Some patients will interpret this discomfort as pain. We have all had an experience with a patient so nervous they react to the touch of a hand on the arm, or a mouth mirror next to the cheek. These individuals will typically also react with a pain response to oral stimuli that is not actually painful, but can be uncomfortable. They may perceive as pain such things as having the mouth open for a long period, water “going down the wrong pipe” and causing coughing, or pressure on the tongue or palate.

Rather than saying, “This won’t hurt”, say, “We do our best to keep you as comfortable as possible. Let me know if anything is bothering you. I get very focused on your teeth and may not notice if I am leaning on your arm for example. Let me know right away.” This gives the patient permission to speak up without fear, and focuses on an external issue (“leaning on your arm”) rather than possible oral issues. After hearing that they can, rarely do they actually complain.

2. “Brushing a little better will take care of the problem”
As a hygienist, when I have set the stage to help a patient agree to scaling and root planing, it defeats the entire dialogue if my dentist downplays the patient’s condition. While none of us wants to be an alarmist, it is better for the office if front desk personnel, assistants, hygienists and dentists all agree to a common vision for when root planing will be recommended. For example, 4mm or deeper pockets and bleeding. A better statement would be, “After you have the proper infection removal procedure from our hygienist, you will have a better chance of maintaining a healthy mouth. We can schedule an appointment for you before you leave.”

3. “There is no charge for this”
Be careful not to give away procedures where a charge should be made. For example, repeated fabrications of mouth guards or ortho retainers, refills of bleaching liquids, or prescription toothpastes. These items have a cost to the office in either money or time, and usually should have an attached fee. A very caring dentist can feel uncomfortable if a patient brings up money. So, if a patient asks what a procedure or home product is going to cost, say “Lauren at the front desk knows what all of our costs are. Let me take you to her and she will let you know.” For patients who are having ortho or bleaching on an ongoing basis, they should receive an estimate of expected fees for any refills or replacements at the time they set up their initial appointment.

4.  “We can do that crown today”
Few things destroy the schedule as completely as performing treatment that was not expected today. When a patient comes in as an emergency with a broken tooth needing a crown, the dentist obviously wants to get that tooth finished right away. However, while this is being accomplished, three other scheduled patients are waiting and waiting in the reception area wondering what the matter is. Patients really hate to wait, and who can blame them. While making one patient happy, we have three who are upset. Far better to perform a palliative service to get the emergency patient comfortable, keep the schedule on time, and appoint the crown prep and delivery for a later date.

How we talk and interact with our patients is an important facet to their general acceptance and satisfaction with our care. Watching what we say is important.

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 hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

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