The Power of Touch Upon Dental Patients

Sept. 1, 2012
Today’s column focuses on a powerful way to begin a re-care visit — and a memorable way to end one.


Today’s column focuses on a powerful way to begin a re-care visit — and a memorable way to end one. Both involve a touch connection that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Surprisingly, more than a few hygienists have told me they simply are not interested in the integration of these physical contacts. Let’s see what you think.

Shaking the hand of each patient I bring to my treatment room has been a part of my protocol for more than 15 years. This former non-shaker made the transition when Dr. Anthony M. Di Cesare — my Red Bank, N.J., employer extraordinaire — proposed the idea. In a nutshell, it was, “Eileen, I shake the hand of every patient in the practice, and our hygienists should be doing the same.” This student was ready, and her teacher had appeared. I became addicted from the first time I delivered, and I’ve been starting each recare visit this way since then with no regrets.

When any health-care provider shakes my hand, it makes a very positive impression. This is not something I encounter frequently. Recently, the woman who did my mammogram retrieved me, shook my hand warmly, and introduced herself to me while looking me squarely in the eye at the start of my visit.

All I could think was, “Wow!” Not only was I impressed with her level of professionalism, but her touch had established a connection of warmth that had me thinking, “This woman is sincere and cares for those she treats.” It reinforced to me why I do what I do!

Now, fast forward to the close of the visit. This next idea may be a trip down Memory Lane for some of you — yet for most, I suspect, a totally new concept. When I was in dental hygiene school, I was exposed briefly to the concept of the gingival massage in terms of therapeutic benefit. It may have been a single paragraph in my clinical text; I know it was not emphasized, nor did our instructors expect this to be included in our protocol. (I have since been an adjunct faculty member in two dental hygiene programs and have not seen any mention of the practice.)

It wasn’t until I began working with another employer extraordinaire, Dr. George LaPorte of Wickford, R.I., that I heard again about the therapy. George made it clear that every patient who sat in the recare chair would have his or her visit conclude with a gingival massage. He was adamant, because he felt it would be another means to distinguish the hygiene appointment. He was correct; patients loved it and enjoyed having their visit end this way.

Here are some simple instructions. After your last step in protocol, which is likely polishing and flossing, take some good tasting tooth paste that you have put out on a piece of gauze or in a dappen dish (I favor Aquafresh). The other steps are:

  • Place a small amount of paste between the thumb and forefinger of your scaling hand
  • Starting on the upper right, place your thumb on the buccal tissue, and your forefinger on the palatal tissue
  • Using a small circular motion, massage your way slowly and deliberately around the maxillary arch
  • Repeat the same process on the mandible

This will take you all of a minute or two. The idea is to soothe tissues potentially irritated by instrumentation and provide additional stimulation. It tastes good and feels great! Patients who have removable partials or dentures are especially enthusiastic. I am always hearing oohs and ahhs. I keep it light and will often ask if the client would now like a back massage. (Joke!) It is a friendly, fun, feel-good way to end the visit.

I learned these two simple, yet powerful gestures from employers whom I consider to be world-class practitioners. These gentlemen helped shape my philosophy of total care, and I am forever grateful.

So today’s message is twofold: consider integrating a handshake and/or a gingival massage into your recare protocol. Be open to learning all you can from the great ones that you have the privilege of working with. (They learn from us too!) 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

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