Content Dam Rdh En Articles Print Volume 36 Issue 8 Contents Correct Me If I M Wrong Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

Correct me if I'm wrong: A thoughtful use of words can make dental hygienists sound quite eloquent

Aug. 23, 2016
Eileen Morrissey, RDH, writes about words dental hygienists might try during patient education.

By Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

I'm always inspired when I hear someone speak eloquently. I often wonder why I don't do it consistently. It's just so ... gracious. When we speak well, we impart a certain confidence-an assuredness. Our message is better received by our audience. We impress people! Hence, why not make the effort to put our best foot forward on a regular basis?

Here's an example. This is one of my favorites. It's used for those unfortunate times when you've kept a patient waiting. Sometimes circumstances are out of our control. We're rushing to dismiss our patient and to get our treatment room turned over, and then it's on to the next patient who's now been waiting 10 minutes. This causes stress! Instead of hightailing it to the reception area with a worried look and a frazzled, "Sorry to have kept you waiting," instead try a calm pace, a smile, eye contact, and a "Thank you so much for waiting, Linda."

Do you see the difference in the energy exchange?

Sidebar: Did you note the use of reception area instead of waiting room? This is a more gracious way of referring to the area in our offices where patients are seated. It is another means of raising the bar in our professional world.

Think about how effective it would be to deliver verbal fanfare to patients who arrive on schedule for their recare visits rather than to simply take them for granted and say nothing. Deliver accolades such as, "John, you look fantastic! You're taking great care of yourself. Coming in to see us regularly is one more reason your mouth is so healthy!" (Watch the big smile that this one generates.)

My daughter became a pharmaceutical rep when she graduated from college. She worked with one manager for much of that time, and she was wary about the transition to a new boss. Her former boss criticized her as needed in an effort to help her improve her sales. She never left those sessions in high spirits, and it had everything to do with the verbiage the boss used. Fortunately, her new boss rides with her on sales calls, and afterward he delivers the necessary constructive feedback in a different way than her former boss.

First, he offers something positive that she's doing, such as her professional manner and the articulate way she opens her discussions. He then talks about the technique she's using to close the sale. It goes something like this. "Now, Erin, correct me if I'm wrong, but what I'm not seeing you use is the printed research the company makes available to distribute to the potential customer." Using that wording invites her to explain, as needed.

I liken this example to something hygienists might try during patient education. State the positive first; then, if something constructive needs to be said, present it like Erin's new boss. For example, "Mary, I'm so impressed with how you brush your teeth because there's no biofilm whatsoever on the inside or outside of any of them! Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears you aren't using anything to clean between your teeth. I'm noticing some bleeding when I scale some areas, and this is evidence of inflammation."

This is positive and eloquent and delivers the necessary message. Perhaps we'll discover that Mary flosses daily but needs some finessing. We've allowed her the opportunity to "correct" our assumption. It's a total win here.

Our patients will remember a warm farewell when we dismiss them. Patients thank us all the time, but how often do we express gratitude? "Thank you for coming in today, Susan. I'll look forward to seeing you in four months!" sounds more upscale than the old "See ya' in six."

Eloquent and effective communication is a fine art, one that we must strive to continually hone just as we do our instruments, and polish as we do the surfaces of the dentitions we're helping our patients maintain.

Onward we go; it is in our hearts' core! RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at