Roger Matthews investigates how having a smoking cessation service in your practice can not only help the on going oral and general health of your existing patients, but also bring new ones through your door.
According to the most recent health service statistics, around 8.5 million people in the UK still smoke and 75% of them say they would like to give up. The facts are that a smoker’s lifespan can be shortened by five minutes for every cigarette smoked and around 50% of all regular cigarette smokers will eventually be killed by their habit. It’s enough to make any non-smokers wonder what possible reasons are left to justify this habit.
However, we all know that addiction is a tricky business and it takes the average smoker at least three attempts to quit. Giving up smoking is about far more than overcoming the physical addiction to nicotine. It’s also about breaking through the psychological aspect of smoking and the habits surrounding it – so how do we help our patients kick the habit for good?
As dental care professionals, you are in an ideal place to offer advice, as you are generally seeing otherwise healthy patients. The majority of people you see will have their own reasons for attending the dentist, whether that be better oral health, aesthetics, fear of future pain etc. In fact, 58% of non-smokers cite keeping their gums and teeth in good shape as a reason for not smoking (www.denplan.co.uk, 2014), so we’re obviously doing something right. So why not make smoking cessation one of their reasons for regular attendance too?
We all know that smokers are more likely to present with periodontitis than non-smokers and that smokers have a poorer response to non-surgical therapy and surgical treatment, but how do we get these messages over to the patient in an effective way? We could refer them to a stop smoking support service, which I would wholly recommend, but why not offer one in your practice? That way, not only will your current patients be better off, but you will have people walking in off the street, especially if you highlight your cessation services on your website.
Dental professionals are already experts at offering oral health advice and motivation, but smoking cessation advice must surely be considered as important as oral hygiene instruction, given the adverse effects of smoking? The key is to use the patient’s reason for attending the practice as a motivation to quit – better aesthetics, better breath, better change of successful treatment outcomes – the list is endless.
It’s been suggested recently that literature has no real effect on cessation rates, so I would avoid trying to communicate with your patients through leaflets, but there are plenty of ways you can improve your communication with this group to offer support. Shock tactics are best avoided for example as these images can often make a patient leave feeling stressed and all the more likely to reach for the cigarettes. It’s also not advisable to tell people to cut down on their smoking as when they do smoke they take longer drags on their cigarette to sustain their nicotine levels. It’s far better to work with your patients to come up with an appropriate ‘quit day’ and using all the cessation aids and support from you, they will be far more likely to quit for good.
Holding samples of the different forms for cessation aid in practice, so that smokers can see them and ask questions, can be a valuable service and patients are far more likely to respond positively if they feel well informed. Some patients may choose to deal with the physical withdrawal and the habit at the same time, while others choose to use nicotine replacement therapy, which takes care of the nicotine addiction so that the smoker can work on breaking the habit. It’s important however, not to reproach a patient for relapsing. By re-assessing the patient’s goals and motivation and exploring their smoking triggers, you can remind them that they can still successfully quit.
It’s clear that encouraging patients to quit smoking is anything but simple. It’s a complex issue with both physical and psychological aspects to tackle. You can not only do two stages of a VBA (very brief advice) training course for free, but some payment plan specialists also offer tailor-made training days specific to your practices needs and can incorporate modules focused on smoking cessation. This type of training can not only give you the confidence to offer guidance and support to your patients, but the means to build mutually beneficial relationships to last long into the future.
www.denplan.co.uk/~/media/Denplan/files/pdfs/companies/2014/intr590614-healthwellbeingbenefitssurveylr.pdf (2014) retrieved: 17/09/14