Have you ever had patients complain to you, or your boss, that they felt you were speaking to them as if they were children? It’s a common complaint against hygienists, sadly. Sometimes it is true but quite often I have found people have had this experience in the past and come expecting it to happen again. They are so convinced of this that they don’t notice that you are in fact treating them like an adult and merely doing your job. It happened to me today and the lady refused to see me. She’d been very defensive at the last visit, which was the first time she’d seen me and resistant to advice although she clearly needed to change her oral hygiene techniques. I made a note of what I’d said and her attitude but I know I’d failed to win her round.
We have to be careful not to talk down to patients. Our task is to educate them and make sure they know the pros and cons of their actions. We have a duty to explain disease processes to them and demonstrate techniques and encourage them but it is their choice whether they take any notice. Ours is a difficult job; we have to impart information of a delicate nature regarding personal hygiene and people do take offence, however careful we are with our attitude.
The best approach is to show them the problem, using a hand mirror and the mouth mirror. When they can see the colour of the inflamed gums and the plaque/calculus they may feel embarrassed that they’ve left it behind so be gentle with them and consider their feelings. Quite often once they see the problem for themselves they then start asking questions about what they can do and there is your opportunity to explain and demonstrate. They are looking for information and advice rather than having it forced upon them.
Set yourself realistic and achievable goals; just making them aware of their mouths and how they feel is sufficient for the first visit, and as they won’t be able to change anything until they have this awareness that is an important goal. If you detect an element of hostility leave it at that. You’ll be surprised how the situation will have changed by the next visit and they will have worked it out themselves so deserve great encouragement.
Try not to be too upset if you don’t please everyone. I say this after a lifetime of doing just that, but I needed someone to say it to me. Making the correct choice of which approach to adopt is something you learn from experience and cannot be taught. It comes from observation, and engaging the patient in conversation, finding out what they want from the appointment, all these things and nurturing them without being patronising. It sounds impossible but that’s what we do!