Dentists know very well the importance of dental treatments in ensuring patients’ oral health. But not all know how to communicate them to patients. According to a Levin Group survey, dental practices should have a case acceptance rate of 90%, but many fall short of reaching this benchmark, settling between 25-50%.
During Benco Dental’s webinar, “Seeing Is Believing: A Show and Tell Approach to Counseling Patients on Complete Oral Health,” speakers share tips to help practices promote the dental health of their patients through counseling and oral cancer screening.
Improve Oral Health by Enhancing Patient Engagement and Trust: 3 Effective Techniques to Make the ‘Show and Tell’ Approach Work
Effective patient counseling can spell the difference in a client’s acceptance of dental treatments. But there is an art to getting to that point. One of Benco’s webinar speakers, Maria Manjone, RDH, BS, MBA, shared some insightful tips.
1. Establish Connection Through Communication
Getting the patient to sit on that dental chair doesn’t necessarily mean that you have their complete trust. Many patients forgo dental treatments because they don’t feel a connection with their dentists. This issue makes it hard for patients to trust your judgment and oral health recommendations.
To gain the patient’s trust, work on establishing a connection with them first. Don’t jump directly to talking about the needed procedure. You cannot win the patient’s trust if they feel like you are rushing to get to the next patient. Instead, take some time to get to know them. Engage in small talk, so they don’t feel like you’re treating them like numbers.
Some patients may end up venting to you about their life issues. Make them feel heard by acknowledging them. Even simple nodding will go a long way. Once you have your patient’s trust, you’ll be surprised at how selling dental treatments become easier.
2. Remove Barriers and Create a Comfortable Environment
We’ve established the importance of communicating with the patient. But communication isn’t always verbal. You have to be mindful of both ‘what’ you communicate and ‘how’ you communicate. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes to understand how they are receiving your message.
Consider this: Your patients are reclined on a dental chair. When they see you fully suit up from that angle, you might be perceived as threatening or dominating while the overhead light is shining on them. When your patient feels that way, it will be hard to convince them to trust you.
To prevent this scenario:
- Talk to your patient before you suit up and put them in a reclined position.
- Look directly at them while speaking.
- Listen to them and pay attention to nonverbal cues that imply worry or discomfort.
- Remember, to get the patient on board with the dental treatment, you must remove all barriers.
Not all walls are physical, however. Sometimes, barriers come in the form of fear of the procedure or doubt about the urgency of the dental treatment. To uncover these concerns:
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Don’t wait until the end of the appointment to discuss issues that may affect the patient’s oral health.
- Once they put their concerns out in the open, acknowledge them before going to the next step.
3. Engage Your Patients in the Dental Treatment Process
Part of creating an engaging experience is involving the patient in the dental treatment process. Allow them to share inputs, but don’t hesitate to correct their perceptions when needed. Explain things in simple language and show them enough information to understand the value of the procedure.
To support your oral health diagnosis, use photos and other visuals. This technique drastically improves the patient’s acceptance of treatment. For instance, if a patient needs a periodontal treatment, you may show pictures of a healthy gum so they can have a basis for comparison.
Some patients hesitate to proceed with dental treatment because they don’t think they need it or understand the severity. To address this, use an intraoral camera to show the patients areas of the mouth that they do not see.
You may also use X-rays as an aid to discuss jaw problems and other internal oral health issues. Again, use simple words to highlight your concern about their oral health.
For example, when you show a jawbone x-ray, tell them: “The normal bone should reach this level [show the level on the X-ray], but yours is just up to here. To correct this, we need to [specify the procedure].” The goal is not to instill fear but to make the patient leave the office with the same concern for their oral health as you have.
How To Identify Oral Cancer Lesions During Screening
Proper screening and education are part of promoting patients’ oral health. The American Dental Association highlighted the importance of oral cancer screening for high-risk groups, following a study that showed only 25.85% of Americans receive oral cancer screening.
Guest speaker Ashley Clark, DDS, FACD’s discussion on recognizing potential signs of oral cancer in mouth lesions or leukoplakia can help dentists fulfill oral cancer screening.
Described as a white patch, leukoplakia is considered a potentially malignant disorder, although most are benign. Usually, the lesions start very thin and slightly raised. They might be a little bit fissured, but they’re very sharply demarcated. As they evolve, they get a little bit thicker.
In most cases, lesions stay at that stage. But about a third of the cases progress and develop surface irregularities. They look like nodular thickening or tiny little papillary projections. If they continue to progress, they thin out and turn red.
Oral Cancer Screening
Most leukoplakias are found on the buccal mucosa and gingiva. Still, almost all that potentially lead to oral cancer are on the lateral or ventral tongue or the floor of the mouth. Generally, the thinner leukoplakias are lower-grade dysplasia (abnormalities). But as they get thicker, they may develop more dysplasia.
However, the only way to make an accurate diagnosis is to perform a biopsy. Every lesion, no matter how innocuous it appears, must be biopsied. That is the standard of care.
Causes and Their Effects on Dental Health
Tobacco and marijuana use are some of the most common causes of leukoplakia. Cigarettes can cause tangible inflammation of the oral tissue. Marijuana smoking, on the other hand, may cause chronic inflammation in the general epithelium.
Existing evaluations of e-cigarettes have not found severe effects on oral health. However, one must interpret the findings with caution. Take note that e-cigarettes haven’t been around that long, so the data doesn’t reflect if e-cigarette usage will have long-term oral health effects.
The treatment for leukoplakia depends on the gravity of the lesion. For mild dysplasia, the lesion itself can be destroyed. But for moderate or worse cases, the whole tissue must be destroyed. Sometimes, small lesions disappear after tobacco cessation. If they don’t, the entire tissue must be removed.
During patient communication, it is essential to stress the urgency of the treatment to patients with leukoplakia. Regular follow-up and oral cancer screening must also be performed every six months.
Stay Tuned for More Insightful Webinars
Benco Dental is committed to helping dentists promote the optimum oral health of their patients. Visit our website to learn about our upcoming webinars and access relevant dental resources.
Ashley Clark, DDS, FACD
Dr. Clark is an associate professor, speaker, and lecturer specializing in Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and Oral Pathology. She is a member of the American Board of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology and an advisory board member for Oral Cancer Cause.
Maria Manjone, RDH, BS, MBA
Maria joined Benco Dental as a Regulatory Compliance Coordinator and Continuing Education Administrator in 2018. She has more than 30 years of experience working in private practice and prosthodontics. Maria also served as a Continuing Education Director for the Northeastern PA Dental Hygienist Association.