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.  

Related Course

The Intentional Hygiene Exam

DATE: September 5 2024 @ 8:00 pm - September 5 2024 @ 9:00 pm

Location: Online

CE HOURS: 1

Date: September 5, 2024 Time: 8 – 9 pm ET Speakers: Michael Rogers DDS & David Gordon DDS Description: Is your hygiene program an interruption to your day?  Or is…

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About Author

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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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Is It Time to Review Your Treatment Protocol for Traumatized Teeth?

December 12, 2022 Lee Ann Brady DMD

About a year ago, in my office, we reviewed our protocol for managing and treating patients with traumatized teeth. We reviewed the literature to learn how we could improve how we help our adult patients who have avulsed or mobile teeth following a traumatic event.

Antibiotics? Yes

One of the new things we read and thought about was whether to put the patient on antibiotics. We added this to our protocol—the patient goes on antibiotics for seven days after learning what antibiotics the patient can take, i.e., will not likely cause an allergic reaction.

Splinting? Yes

The literature now recommends splinting the traumatized teeth for two weeks and then removing the split after two weeks. Although there has been a conversation over the years about whether to splint or not to splint and if splinting has anything to do with the teeth ankylosing or resorption, the current recommendation is to splint but for just two weeks.

Improved Counseling of Our Patients? Yes

We learned that three common sense items needed to be reviewed with our patients, because it is easy to retraumatize teeth, and patients easily forget to be attentive to personal “gentleness.”

  • We added to our protocol list counseling the patient to go on a soft diet that does not require biting down for three to four days, then longer if they sense the tooth roots are still mobile.
  • Similarly, we added counseling the patient to do gentle mouth cleaning. They should brush traumatized teeth very, very gently so as not to re-traumatize or move them.
  • We also added to our list making sure patients understand the importance of follow-up visits and radiography to track the health of the traumatized teeth.

Following the Health of the Teeth

We use periapical or CBT radiography to follow the teeth at one month after the initial trauma and again after two months, four months, and six months. If there appears to be healthy pulp and attachment of the teeth to the bone and connective tissue at six months, we can extend the time between making new images.

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DATE: August 11 2024 @ 8:00 am - August 15 2024 @ 2:30 pm

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night with private bath: $ 290

Understanding that “form follows function” is critical for knowing how to blend what looks good with what predictably functions well. E3 is the phase of your Essentials journey in which…

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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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The Four Burner Theory

May 16, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

Imagine your life depicted as a metaphorical four-burner stovetop, with each burner representing a major quadrant of your life, and those quadrants being:  

FAMILY        CAREER 

HEALTH       FRIENDS
 

This thought experiment is called “The Four Burner’s Theory,” and it is similar in some ways to L.D. Pankey’s Cross of Life. Both concepts imply that the pursuit of life balance is a process, not an event, and that each quadrant represents a cluster of related values-based decisions that  lead us into our future. 

Obviously, there are many times in life, during which by choice or circumstance, we find our life is severely out of balance, for example, dental school, parenting children, starting a practice, and so on. 

The Four Burners Theory tells us that to be successful in business we need to initially “turn down” two burners to establish an initial beachhead. But frankly, we don’t want to hear that kind of message. Rather, we would rather hear that we can have it all and soon.  

This impatient, short-term mindset has now permeated our culture, even to the point where many people seem to think that somehow “having it all” is their birthright. But viewing life balance as a birthright is a problematic perspective, because it can never be fully realized, and if we cling to it too firmly, it becomes easy for us to start to feel like a victim. 

And victims don’t act. Instead, they blame-shift. They sulk. They over-think. And they fail to act in ways that will move them toward greater life balance. A much more realistic perspective is to acknowledge that our life is full of seasons, around which we need to be aware, adapt, accept, and respond appropriately. 

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E1: Aesthetic & Functional Treatment Planning

DATE: October 16 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 19 2025 @ 2:30 pm

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Transform your experience of practicing dentistry, increase predictability, profitability and fulfillment. The Essentials Series is the Key, and Aesthetic and Functional Treatment Planning is where your journey begins.  Following a system of…

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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Becoming a Relationship-Based Advocate for Patient Health

June 19, 2018 Bill Gregg DDS

Dentistry is rapidly segmenting into two distinct professions.

One will be what most patients think of as traditional dentistry. The tooth fixer and cleaner. The technician. These dental offices will focus on bits and pieces of treatment to get full insurance dollars from each patient each year. The staff will likely also be fragmented by tasks.

The other profession will be the doctor of the oral-health system. The valued family advisor on health and wellness. As Pankey-trained dental offices, we are well positioned to become the relationship-based advocates for our patients’ health.

Training Your Team to Advocate for Patient Health

How about your team? Have you put in the time to train and behaviorally change your most valued support?

A most important person in that team approach is the hygienist. Are they having conversations about total health? Social conversations don’t lead to behavior change that improves the health awareness of our valued patients.

Again, as Pankey-trained dentists, our hygienists can have a huge impact on our patients’ perception of our unique thoroughness. Occlusal awareness should be part of hygiene discovery about their health.

Bringing Up Occlusion in the Hygiene Appointment

This can involve simple questions: What have you been noticing about your bite? Chewing? Jaw? Headaches? “What have you been noticing about [fill in the blank]…?” can begin a discussion.

Depending on the conversation, one can follow with: “We are noticing that, as people live longer (keep their teeth longer), we see things slowly develop that can lead to big concerns. In our office, our purpose is unique – we want you to be able to enjoy eating all the foods you love the remainder of your life. I will look at potentially traumatic bite forces for you.”

How do you introduce occlusion in your hygiene exams? Let us know in the comments! 

Related Course

The Intentional Hygiene Exam

DATE: September 5 2024 @ 8:00 pm - September 5 2024 @ 9:00 pm

Location: Online

CE HOURS: 1

Date: September 5, 2024 Time: 8 – 9 pm ET Speakers: Michael Rogers DDS & David Gordon DDS Description: Is your hygiene program an interruption to your day?  Or is…

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About Author

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Bill Gregg DDS

I attended South Hills High School in Covina, Denison University in Granville, Ohio and the University of Redlands in Redlands, California prior to dental school at UCLA. My post-graduate education has included an intensive residency at UCLA Hospital, completion of a graduate program at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education ; acceptance for Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD); and in 2006 I earned the prestegious Pankey Scholar. Continuing education has always been essential in the preparation to be the best professional I am capable of becoming and to my ongoing commitment to excellence in dental care and personal leadership. I am a member of several dental associations and study groups and am involved in over 100 hours of continuing education each year. The journey to become one of the best dentists in the world often starts at the Pankey Institute. I am thrilled that I am at a point in my professional life that I can give back. I am honored that I can be a mentor to others beginning on their path. As such, I have discovered a new passion; teaching. I am currently on faculty at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education devoting 2-3 weeks each year to teaching post-graduate dental programs. In other presentations my focus is on Leadership and includes lifestyle, balance and motivation as much as dentistry.

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Harness the Language of Health

February 17, 2018 Pankey Gram

Many dentist-patient interactions operate under the assumption of limited time on our part and limited ability to accurately explain on theirs. After engaging in hundreds of pre-clinical interviews and conversations during appointments, you will have naturally developed your own preferred style for questioning. But how well does it really serve you?

If you feel something is lacking in your patient care, yet your clinical skills and execution seem immaculate, the problem might be about language. When you communicate with your patients, do you get the sense that they feel limited, misunderstood, or unsatisfied? This could be a direct result of using language to discuss ‘disease’ rather than ‘health.’

Use the Language of Health to Connect With Your Patients

Getting out of the rut of a traditional hygiene appointment starts with how you communicate. Even minor shifts in your word choice can have a profound effect on the patient’s sense of comfort. Open up a discussion about their health to connect with their needs.

A great way to follow this path is to abandon the typical impersonal medical jargon. Instead of asking if there have been changes to the patient’s medical history, pose a question about how their health has been since you last saw them.

Right out of the gate, you are presenting yourself as empathetic rather than turning into the classic brusque medical professional. Ask about how they are feeling, whether they have been taking care of themselves, and what changes they have made in their lifestyle.

These types of questions capitalize on expressive language to make the most of your time. Having the patient rattle off changes in their medical history without knowing how they feel about those changes isn’t as useful. People will generally open up when they are given a safe, non-judgmental space to discuss their health. After all, it is often one of the central preoccupations of our interior lives.

What questions do you think are most productive during appointments? 

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Functional Esthetic Excellence – Utilizing 100% Digital Workflow

DATE: May 8 2025 @ 8:00 am - May 10 2025 @ 2:00 pm

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CE HOURS: 25

Dentist Tuition: $ 3195

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Embracing Digital Dentistry This course will introduce each participant to the possibilities of complex case planning utilizing 100% digital workflows. Special emphasis will be placed on understanding how software can…

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Pankey Gram

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