One appointment at a time

Feb. 1, 2004
Do you ever stop and ask yourself, "Why am I doing what I do?" You were pretty excited on the day you graduated from hygiene school.

By Cynthia "Snow" Christopher, RDH

Do you ever stop and ask yourself, "Why am I doing what I do?" You were pretty excited on the day you graduated from hygiene school. You probably had that "nothing can hold me back now" attitude. You thought to yourself, I am going to change the world with every patient I come in contact with.

Do you still have that attitude?

Or have you become complacent with your job, thinking you're just a tooth scaler and nothing more. Do you feel as if you change people's lives everyday? Or do you feel as if the only life you want to change is your own?

Give these questions some deep thought. By looking closely at each answer you give, you may find that hygiene is not the profession for you anymore, or you may find that you just need to be rejuvenated in a profession that you once loved. We can change people's lives — one hygiene appointment at a time.

As a practicing hygienist of more than 10 years, I have a new passion for what I do. My goal upon exiting hygiene school was to hopefully make a small difference in someone's life. Actually, I would have settled for just one person who could understand how important brushing and flossing could be.

As I look back upon the years I have spent in our profession, I wish I knew then what I know now. Many years would not have been wasted preaching about what our office could do for them. Much of my time would have been more wisely spent by asking them, "What would you like for us to do for you?"

With this simple question, my life as a hygienist has changed. No longer do people look at me as if I were trying to tell or sell them something they don't want or need. They look at me as a person who really cares about them and their well-being.

My job as dental educator became much easier the day I quit preaching and started listening to what my patients' desires are. It's amazing what you hear when you take the time to listen. People will tell you exactly what they want. They will also tell you what they don't want.

For hygienists who feel as if they can't even get patients involved with oral hygiene care, they need to pause and reflect on whether the patient has the same goals as they do. Some people don't view brushing and flossing as a top priority. Some people just dream of having a smile that is worthy of their effort to brush and floss. Have you taken the time to ask them what they think of their smile?

I have found that if a patient is not happy with their smile, they are not going to be happy with anything you suggest. Do you know of one patient who has a beautiful smile and who is not interested in keeping it that way? At our office, we believe that one of the first questions you should ask a potential patient is, "Are you happy with your smile, and, if not, what would you change?" Many patients have told me that no one has ever asked them this question before. This shocks me. Are we not in our profession to make a difference in their lives?

I will share one incident where taking the time to ask these simple questions has changed a patient's life. The patient I am speaking of entered our office via a new patient appointment. With all new patient appointments, the hygienist is allotted ample time to interview the patient and find out what their wants and desires may be.

With this particular patient, when asked, "Are you happy with your smile, and, if not, what would you change?" he teared up and said, "What smile? I don't smile." When asked why he didn't smile he stated, "I do not have a smile."

Upon examination, it became very evident why he did not have a smile. He had only three maxillary teeth; all others were decayed to small nubs. He had periodontal disease, which had gone without treatment. Others had told him there was no hope. He had come to our office for one last opinion.

We wondered if there was any way to help this gentleman. The philosophy in our office is there is always a way to help a patient. We knew that if all we could do was listen and sympathize with him that was better than most had done before us.

As we listened to this man, it was evident that in the years past he had let his oral health go. Now he was deeply wishing that he could go back and change his ways.

When the doctor examined the patient, he explained that there was some hope but this would involve a lot of work, a lot of money and, most of all, patient motivation. This patient, who at one time was not concerned with taking care of the teeth he once had, took on a new life. When given the hope of having a beautiful smile, he changed how he viewed his mouth. He made the decision that, if given a second chance, he would do what was needed to take care of his mouth. He underwent a series of periodontal treatments in our office. He had root canal treatment on every decayed tooth. Soon thereafter, his final restorations were placed.

This man had no hope. He did not care about the condition of his mouth until he was asked that one most important question, "Are you happy with your smile, and, if not, what would you change?"

This gentleman's case took about 18 months to complete. He is now an ideal hygiene patient. He comes to each recare appointment faithfully. There is no preaching about brushing and flossing each visit. He is the one to ask us if there are changes in the condition of his mouth and what can he do better.

The thing that impresses us the most about this gentleman is not the fact that he is now an ideal hygiene patient, but the overall change in his attitude. Not one time since his initial visit has this gentleman walked into our office without a skip in his step, a sparkle in his eyes, and, most importantly, a smile upon his face.

Rejuvenate your passion as a hygienist. You have the ability and knowledge to change the life of every patient you come in contact with. Sure, it may not be as dramatic as this particular case. Every patient may not be turned into an ideal hygiene patient. But if you put the "care" back into your recare appointments, you may just find your patients are more willing and open to your suggestions.

You may also find a renewed passion for what you do. Remember, you are in a profession where you can change people's lives — one hygiene appointment at a time.

Cynthia "Snow" Christopher, RDH, is a practicing dental hygienist of 12 years. She works with Drs. Matt and Ann Bynum. The practice is an insurance-free family dental practice in a suburb of Greenville, S.C. She will be lecturing with Dr. Matt Bynum and her dynamic team members at The Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies on Achieving Extreme Success. She can be reached by phone at (864) 297-5585 or by e-mail at snow@drmatt