Partnering in Health Part 4: Our Questions Shape the Conversation  

June 12, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

The questions we ask on a health history form have more to do with disease history than health history, right? The focus is on disease right away. I like to shift that focus to health by saying, “I see that you’ve filled out this history and I’d like to talk to you about specifics, but I wonder if we can begin by you telling me a bit about your health in general? How healthy do you think you are?”  

I have found that if I start with health, I’m more likely to have a patient talk about health. If a patient says, “I think I’m pretty healthy,” I can ask, “What do you do to take care of yourself?” I can relate by acknowledging that I am trying to take better care of myself and how it isn’t always easy. Or I can pick up on something that is important to the patient, such as a concerted effort to get enough sleep or stick to healthier foods or to bicycle many miles a week. I can say, “Tell me more about that. It sounds like you feel better when you do that.”   

The questions you ask shape the conversation. And by the way, that does not just apply to reviewing a health history with new patients. It applies to every single interaction, with every single patient, with everyone on the team.   

When someone comes for their routine hygiene check, I might ask about their recent vacation or how their kids are doing, but I also always ask questions that open a conversation about health. Instead of starting with, “Have there been any changes in your health history since I last saw you?” I like to ask, “How has your health been since I last saw you?” Instead of asking, “Have there been any dental problems that you want us to pay attention to,” I ask, “What have you been noticing about your teeth recently? What are you noticing when you brush or when you floss?”  

We have to deal with disease. That’s a part of our job but moving toward health is more enriching. It’s positive.   

If you want to be seen as a partner in health, then moving the conversation in the direction of health is much more powerful than focusing on disease. The truth is everyone has a personal health story. There are things they are happy about and things they are sad about. When we take a little time to explore that story with questions, we and our patient gain insight into their experiences, attitudes, and feelings about their health. We and our patient get a better understanding of their motivations and the strategies they employ to become healthier. If we invite them to share their perspective with us, they will be more willing to hear our perspective, and we can extend an invitation: “Would you like to hear my perspective about that?”  

I recognize that inviting and engaging the patient in expanded conversations about their health may take a little more time, but it is effective time. Over the years, I noticed that when I thought I was being most efficient, I was generally being less effective. And in the long run, I ended up spending more time understanding what the problem was and trying to give more information without getting enough feedback to know if I was being heard or influencing the patient.   

One of my favorite things to hear from a patient is “You know, I never thought about that before.” I remember a woman who told me that she had been a smoker, but she had quit smoking. And I asked her how she did that. What prompted her? She said it was when her daughter was born that she realized that she didn’t want the smoke around her daughter. In her health review and preclinical conversation, she mentioned one of the things she did for exercise was tap dancing lessons, so I asked her how she got into that, and she said, “I figured I could spend time with my daughter, get exercise myself, and set a good example for my daughter. Wow, I guess my daughter is really a good influence on my health, isn’t she?” 

Those are the light bulb moments that light up my day.  

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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A Simple Score Sheet Gamifies Moving Patients Forward 

June 10, 2024 Clayton Davis, DMD

By Clayton Davis, DDS 

About 15 years ago, my wife and I were on a trip to New York City. My laboratory had told me about two dentists there who practiced together and did an amazing amount of cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Their best month was about six or seven times more than my best month, so I was curious. I knew they had studied with some of the same mentors I had. They had gone to Pankey and Dawson. They have a a comprehensive approach. While I was in New York, one morning I told my wife I was going to visit their Manhattan office and see what I could learn. 

Their office had reasonable furnishings (nothing fancy) and a reasonable level of equipment. It was tidy with nice staff. It seemed similar to what I have in my office. I sat down with the dentist who was there that day, and he shared with me what they do in their practice. They do a fair amount of marketing in health and beauty magazines that are circulated in the New York City area but otherwise it all sounded very familiar to my practice.  

A few moments later, there was a knock at the door. It was the hygienist, and she said, “Doctor, ready when you get a chance for your examination. Mr. Anderson is in today, you may not recall, but he had said that he wanted to get his veneers done after his daughter graduated from college. That was a couple years ago when he said that, and his daughter is graduating in June, so it’s time to bring that up again. I mentioned it to him today, and he’s scheduled to start that in July. So, when you want to come on in and talk to him about it, that would be great.” 

She walked away, and I looked at the dentist. I said, “What just happened? The hygienist handled everything about moving that patient forward for treatment. I can’t get mine to do that. As a matter of fact, we’ve had conversations, and they don’t seem to feel comfortable doing that.” 

He said, “I don’t know. We talked to them about it, and they’re tremendous about it. They really help our practice move patients into treatment.” 

I went home wondering how I could move my hygienists in the same direction, and an old business concept came back to me. If you want to improve something, you need to come up with a way to measure it. So, I came up with a form for logging what I call “Hygiene Points” and presented it to my hygienists. We talked about how we want to improve our ability to move patients forward with their treatment through the hygiene department. I simply asked them to score themselves on how it went at each appointment in talking to patients about any kind of treatment that came up. 

As each patient passes through hygiene, they receive a score. The lowest score, a score of 1, is for when I come into the operatory, talk to the hygiene patient, bring up some previously recommended treatment, and they go ahead and schedule it. A score of 2 is for when the hygienist finds a problem like a cracked tooth and says that it needs to be monitored. A score of 3 is for when I’m in hygiene and diagnose something new and get the patient to commit to schedule treatment. A score of 4 is for when the hygienist gets previously recommended treatment scheduled at the front desk without my involvement. A score of 5 is for when the hygienist takes an intraoral picture and points out a problem to me and I get a commitment to schedule. In other words, they say, “Let’s take a picture of this. I want Dr. Davis’s opinion on it when he comes in the room.” And then because the hygienist was concerned and I confirm in front of the patient that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, the patient schedules treatment. The collaboration and communication go so well, this is worth 5 points. And then the ultimate score is 6 for when the hygienist gets a commitment to schedule treatment for an obvious problem before I come in to confirm the diagnosis.  

The first couple of months that we used this scoring, we recorded a baseline monthly total.  After that, the competitive instincts of the hygienists kicked in and they wanted to improve their total score each month. I did not give them a reward incentive, and over two years, more production was coming out of hygiene. The old saw “You can improve what you measure” has certainly increased restorative collaboration and revenue in our practice, and the pursuit of higher Hygiene Points has been fun. 

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Clayton Davis, DMD

Dr. Clayton Davis received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina. Continuing his education at the Medical College of Georgia, he earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1980. Having grown up in the Metro Atlanta area, Dr. Davis and his wife, Julia, returned to establish practice and residence in Gwinnett County. In addition to being a Visiting Faculty Member of The Pankey Institute, Dr. Davis is a leader in Georgia dentistry, both in terms of education and service. He is an active member of the Atlanta Dental Study Group, Hinman Dental Society, and the Georgia Academy of Dental Practice. He served terms as president of the Georgia Dental Education Foundation, Northern District Dental Society, Gwinnett Dental Society, and Atlanta Dental Study Group. He has been state coordinator for Children’s Dental Health Month, facilities chairman of Georgia Mission of Mercy, and served three terms in the Georgia Dental Association House of Delegates.

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Using X-Floss for Dental Implant Care 

June 3, 2024 Lee Ann Brady DMD

By Lee Ann Brady, DMD 

Cleaning the larger gingival embrasures around a posterior dental implant can be a challenge for patients. In my practice, posterior implant patients are some of the individuals we give X-Floss samples to try at home.  

X-Floss is a dental floss made by iDontix® that is designed to make flossing easier for individuals with bridges, braces, implants, or larger-than-normal gingival embrasures. It resembles yarn, has a thick texture, and has a hard end, making it easy to push under orthodontic wires, bridges, or in embrasure spaces. It effectively cleans larger spaces while remaining gentle on the gums. The soft material minimizes the risk of injury during flossing, even in subgingival areas, and it is conveniently available on Amazon and in drugstores.  

There are two varieties. Green X-Floss from is too thick for some spaces. Blue X-Floss Lite is less thick and just right for some spaces. You and your hygienist may want to give samples of both to your patients to try. Some of your patients are likely to more effectively and consistently floss once they are using this type of floss.  

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Lee Ann Brady DMD

Dr. Lee Ann Brady is passionate about dentistry, her family and making a difference. She is a general dentist and owns a practice in Glendale, AZ limited to restorative dentistry. Lee’s passion for dental education began as a CE junkie herself, pursuing lots of advanced continuing education focused on Restorative and Occlusion. In 2005, she became a full time resident faculty member for The Pankey Institute, and was promoted to Clinical Director in 2006. Lee joined Spear Education as Executive VP of Education in the fall of 2008 to teach and coordinate the educational curriculum. In June of 2011, she left Spear Education, founded leeannbrady.com and joined the dental practice she now owns as an associate. Today, she teaches at dental meetings and study clubs both nationally and internationally, continues to write for dental journals and her website, sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Inside Dentistry and DentalTown Magazines and is the Director of Education for The Pankey Institute.

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Partnering in Health Part 2: There Is No Suffering We Cannot Care About  

May 6, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

Think for a moment: Is there a change you think you could make in your life that would contribute positively to your health? Is there anything you could be doing—or not doing—that could improve your overall health and wellbeing? Most of us can think of something we could do, or do more consistently, to improve our health. Next, ask yourself if the reason you have not made the change you need to make is because you do not have enough information. Our clinical training taught us that if we give people the right information they will change their behaviors. It’s easy to get disappointed in ourselves and our patients when that turns out to not always be true.   

Reflecting on our own past and current health challenges is a way to remind ourselves that health is a journey, not just a set of strategies. What makes perfect sense to us now, may not have been relevant 20 years ago. Often we have heard the relevant information before but were slow to act on it. We may have conflicting priorities, such as time, or money. We may have had fears or doubts. When we can look at our own journey with understanding and compassion we are better able to see our patients that way.   

I remember a patient who came to us with a lot of dentistry that needed to be done. As we talked with her about recommendations for treatment, her eyes welled up with tears. “It’s nothing,” she said when I asked her what the tears were about. Eventually she shared with us that she and her family had been saving up to build a deck on their house. Doing the dentistry she knew she needed would mean they could not build the deck. There was a time when I might have thought, “What’s more important, a deck or your dental health?!?” But I was moved by her struggle. I can’t judge what a deck may mean to her and her family, but I can relate to her sadness in letting go of something they had been saving toward.   

As you advise patients, it’s helpful to share that are you on a path to better health yourself, and that it is not always easy. In this way we can step outside of the role of “expert” and come to our conversations as fellow travelers. And when we do come as fellow travelers, we bring our empathy, our humanity, and we allow ourselves to feel compassion. We are likeable.  

One of my favorite books is Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. She quotes the psychologist Carl Rogers, who said:  

Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin. 

Because we are on a journey of becoming healthier just like everyone else, we can sit side by side with a patient. We can say, “I get it. It’s not always easy.” We can allow ourselves to feel compassion—that urge to genuinely help someone, and gently invite them to understand they are no longer alone.

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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Dental Care While Wearing an Essix Retainer 

April 15, 2024 Lee Ann Brady

By Lee Ann Brady, DMD 

One of the most common ways that we temporize a patient who is having maxillary anterior implant dentistry is with an Essix retainer. Some patients will wear it 24 hours a day and others for less. Hopefully they are taking it out to rinse, brush, and floss, but the reality is they are wearing a removable device that covers all of the tooth surfaces for a lot of hours every day, and we’re increasing their risk of caries, decalcification, and gingivitis. 

In addition to discussing the normal oral hygiene to be done at home, in our practice, we typically dispense a product like Clinpro 5000 from 3M or MI Paste from GC America. These are high calcium and fluoride products that provide fluoride treatments inside the Essex retainer. 

  • If a patient is sleeping in the Essix, the instructions are to brush and floss the teeth and then use a toothbrush to spread a little bit of Clinpro or MI Paste on the inside of the retainer before going to sleep. 
  •  If they are not wearing the Essix during sleep, the instructions are the same but to wear the Essix for up to an hour every evening before removing it to go to sleep. 

If the patient’s caries risk is high, I prefer using 10% carbamide peroxide gel instead of Clinpro or MI Paste. This is the active ingredient we us in perio trays to help prevent gingivitis. This is also the means by which patients can whiten their teeth while wearing an Essix retainer. 

To prevent damage to the Essix, instruct patients to rinse it with cold water and, when not wearing it, to store it in the provided container.  

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Lee Ann Brady

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Gratitude for the Last 25 Years of Learning

October 28, 2019 Sheri Kay RDH

It was August of 1995 when I first walked through the doors of The Pankey Institute.

At that time, I had only one year of experience under my belt as a licensed hygienist, and I believed I had won the “dental lottery” by having spent the past six months working for a Pankey Institute trained dentist. Dr. Steve Ratcliff was passionate about the Institute and his philosophy of care that was inspired by what he was learning there. He proudly shared everything possible with me about how he wanted our practice to develop.

It was a hands-on perio course at the Institute where I eagerly learned about non-traditional use of Gracey currettes, utilization of ultrasonics, and the current science of periodontal disease and its management with Dr. Sam Low. I remember being so nervous and so excited. There were hygienists from all over the country with similar desires, challenges, and dreams, and together we formed a sweet community of our own, learning and growing together with an even better understanding of what was possible as a dental hygienist.

It’s difficult to believe that 25 years have flown by, and it’s so cool that here I am about to lead the 2020 version of that very same program. Appreciating the magnitude and beauty of Quid Pro Quo, I’m honored to now be teaching with Dr. Sam Low to support hygienists toward their full scope of practice.

Our program will focus on two key components of the hygiene chair:

1. What it means to be a Restorative Partner in your practice by deepening the art of co-discovery and patient engagement.

2. Understanding current science around the diagnosis and management of periodontal disease, including hands-on utilization of power instruments, air polishing, and adjunctive therapies.

There are many pieces and parts to my enthusiasm about this program, The Pankey Hygienist.

What brings me the most joy is knowing that I get to share “my version” of Dr. L.D. Pankey’s philosophy with the doctors and hygienists in attendance. The Institute was certainly a game-changer for our practice and our patients 25 years ago. It continues to be a life-changing experience for me each and every time I get to be within this community, whether it is at the Institute, at an offsite event, or visiting other dental practices inspired by their own time with the Institute. I’m not just grateful. I’m “over the moon” grateful for this life.

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Sheri Kay RDH

Sheri Kay started her career in dentistry as a dental assistant for an “under one roof” practice in 1980. The years quickly flew by as Sheri worked her way from one position to the next learning everything possible about the different opportunities and roles available in an office. As much as she loved dentistry … something was always missing. In 1994, after Sheri graduated from hygiene school, her entire world changed when she was introduced to the Pankey Philosophy of Care. What came next for Sheri was an intense desire to help other dental professionals learn how they could positively influence the health and profitability of their own practices. By 2012, Sheri was working full time as a Dental Practice Coach and has since worked with over 300 practices across the country. Owning SKY Dental Practice Dental Coaching is more of a lifestyle than a job, as Sheri thrives on the strong relationships that she develops with her clients. She enjoys speaking at state meetings, facilitating with Study Clubs and of course, coaching with her practices.

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