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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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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Getting to Treatment: Letters to My Patients 

May 22, 2024 Laura Harkin

By Laura S. Harkin, DMD  

My dad and I were enjoying our favorite lunch spot years ago when he turned to me and said, “Laura, isn’t it amazing? There’s an incredible sense of trust that our patients have in us. Sometimes, we give our best recommendation for treatment, and it is declined as if it weren’t important or a priority. I’ve recognized that, more often than not, our patients eventually choose to move forward, proving that it was more a matter of timing and circumstance than lack of value.” 

Trust is the cornerstone of our practice. It was transferred from patients to Grandpa to Dad and to me. I do believe that every morsel is earned through guidance, thoughtfulness, and skill. Trust is an entity that requires constant nurturing. In private practice, one should recognize that a doctor’s trust in their patient is equally as important as a patient’s trust in their provider. With synergy there’s the opportunity for optimal health. Even as a child, I had a very clear understanding of the care my dad had for his patients. This feeling is innate and deeply imbedded in me. I imagine that he felt the same.  

I don’t consider myself “a writer,” but I’ve always enjoyed the art of letter writing. I grew up writing frequently to my grandparents and friends and always loved picking out stationary that reflected my personality. Recently, I reread the letters that my grandfather typed on his old typewriter and my oldest brother scribbled on his Grateful Dead CD inserts – crafted just for me. It seems fitting then that I enjoy writing personalized letters to my patients. In fact, I’m pretty sure I salvaged my mental health during COVID by writing “updates” to my patients during months of closure. I digress. 

The letters that I write to my patients are most often in reference to comprehensive treatment. They provide a bird’s eye glimpse of our most recent findings, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations. My older patients, especially, appreciate my thoroughness, organization, and systematic approach to recommended treatment. These letters certainly aren’t handwritten, but the hard copy renders a sense of care that’s transferred from my hands to theirs. We must remember that individuals comprehend and retain information differently. The one-on-one, verbal, treatment consultation can become lost in the shuffle of everyday. Add dental language and complicated procedures to the mix, and that’s simply a recipe for confusion.  

Whenever I present complex treatment to a patient, I write a letter in everyday language to support our conversation. It’s stored in their digital chart as part of their dental record. In my first paragraph, I state my patient’s chief complaint. A summary of clinical findings followed by bullet point. Next, I provide my best treatment recommendation, an appointment sequence, and the financial investment. Photographs are also a helpful insert to aid in explanation for family members who were unable to attend the consultation. I think there’s value in a tangible letter taken home to revisit.  

Treatment letters are also an irreplaceable resource for my team. When a patient calls to schedule treatment previously presented, my stored letter immediately becomes a reference for scheduling appointments, including time allotments and space in-between subsequent visits. In my office, we offer a courtesy for treatment paid in full. This amount is figured in the financial investment portion of my letter so that conversations regarding immediate payment or a payment plan can easily flow. Should a case not be accepted prior to a routine recare visit, this letter serves as an excellent reminder during team huddle. It’s inefficient to page through multiple chart notes and software-driven plans with no explanation of the diagnoses which caused a need for restoration in the first place.  

In my first few years of practice, it was hard for me to accept that I needed to view this document as fluid with a potential need for multiple modifications to suit my patient’s desires and limitations. For example, financial concerns often lead to the need for phased treatment or a compromise from the ideal. I’m committed to openly discussing what may occur if no treatment is rendered or if a compromised approach is chosen. Likewise, I believe in the importance of presenting the financial component of extensive treatment myself. As the dentist and business owner, I must “own” the fee that I’ve carefully determined to reflect indirect and direct time, the skill level and support to be provided by my team, the technical excellence of my laboratory technicians, and my own knowledge. The fee that I present is steadfast, barring an unanticipated need such as root canal therapy. Should there be a need for additional chair-time or visits, it’s included in the quoted fee.  

Finally, my letters include my expectations for post-treatment maintenance. For example, if we are to complete a hybrid case in conjunction with a surgeon, I’m careful to share the importance of periodontal health and frequent maintenance visits to prevent peri-implantitis. In patients who have pre-existing medical conditions that when uncontrolled can be contradictory, I stress the importance of regular monitoring. Ultimately, I strive to empower my patients to choose and achieve oral health, Undoubtedly, oral health positively impacts overall health. My personal letters are a distinguishing trait of my practice that convey the level of care to be carried from presentation through treatment and in maintenance. Consider the value in this extra step! 

 

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Laura Harkin

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How I Address Filling the Access Hole of a Screw-Retained Implant Crown 

April 17, 2024 Lee Ann Brady DMD

By Lee Ann Brady, DMD 

For addressing the access hole of a screw-retained implant crown, my preferred method involves applying Teflon tape over the hole followed by temporary filling material, such as Telio Inlay from Ivoclar Vivadent. 

I emphasize to patients the importance of maintaining accessibility to the screw for potential adjustments without jeopardizing the integrity of the ceramic crown. Hence, immediately after seating the crown, I ensure no adjustments are needed before doing the filling. 

Patients are scheduled for a final post-op appointment with the surgeon after the restoration is in place. If there are no issues requiring crown removal, the Teflon tape and Telio Inlay may remain indefinitely, monitored during hygiene recall appointments. As long as the temporary filling remains intact, replacement is unnecessary. 

In cases where the Telio Inlay dislodges but the Teflon tape remains intact, I inform the patient of our plan to reapply the temporary filling. However, if repeated dislodgment occurs, leading to inconvenience, we consider transitioning to a permanent filling. In such instances, fresh Teflon tape is applied, and the access hole is filled with composite that precisely matches the crown’s color. 

Even if years pass and the Telio Inlay needs replacement, I opt for a temporary filling for ease of identification if removal is necessary. Only if frequent filling replacements prove bothersome do I consider switching to a permanent filling because I prioritize easy retrievability of the screw. 

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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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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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Why I Focus on Health-Centered Patients

May 23, 2022 Paul Henny DDS

More dental leaders are blogging on the subject of leading dental patients to improved health by learning what is important to them. Often, the next words we read are “We need to meet patients where they are.” What exactly does that mean???

To me, this doesn’t mean we meet expectations of low cost, faster care, with immediate results. This doesn’t mean we make promises that all their dental needs are met for the next six to twelve months. It doesn’t me the therapy we provide will solve an incipient or chronic problem for life. It doesn’t mean their insurance coverage dictates the value of the care we deliver. It doesn’t mean we are going to open our office after hours or on the weekend because that’s what someone wants. It doesn’t mean we guarantee a crown or veneers will last and never need to be replaced.

To me, this means understanding the individual patient, not patients (plural) as a population with trending, new expectations in 2022. It means focusing on the things each person thinks are important and relevant to their lives…where their priorities lie. Then, we can attempt to strategically tie what they value to their dental health to help them make a connection to a preferred future self. Most people, it seems, are unable to make these connections on their own.

Two Big Questions We Ask Ourselves

What do our oral health findings–ideally uncovered during a co-discovery exam, mean to a particular person? If our findings don’t have meaning to the patient, how can we possibly motivate the patient to take action? All of us struggle with these types of questions because we can’t force our values, our philosophy of oral health on others.

We can, however, create opportunities to reveal a pre-existing, unrealized value of health the patient has. If we find the patient is not health-centered, we can triage that person appropriately so we spend most of our time with patients who are health-centered.

“Revealing” Unrecognized Value Takes Time

Early in my career, I thought I could educate my patients to see the value of oral health the way I saw it. I found I was often knocking my head against the wall. Some people just didn’t value it. They wanted help when they were in pain, but preventing dental deterioration wasn’t something they felt needed immediate action. Moving forward with treatment was not on their personal agenda.

Gradually, as I read Bob Barkley, L.D. Pankey, Nate Kohn, Jr., and others, I realized they had gone through a discovery process of their own. The first task was to get to know the patient and understand the patient’s value for health and the patient’s oral health objectives. It was also to try to discover if their oral health circumstances were important to them so I could help them envision their preferred health future. But that takes time—time with each patient.

If your practice is primarily insurance dependent, you are underpaid most of the time. How do you compensate for this problem? You find ways to work faster. You find ways to see more people in a day. You delegate more. You look for a way to cut your lab technician’s salary out of your life. You buy in bulk and wake up in the middle of the night wondering why you got into dentistry in the first place.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Many years ago, when I began spending time with new patients to learn if they are health-centered, I was able to better manage my time with them. If they valued health…if I could connect them with their dental needs on a deeper level, then spending even more time with them was well worth it.

Those who value health are the patients we can easily help understand why we take our comprehensive approach to restoring and maintaining optimal oral health.

You can be more productive per hour than you can imagine, IF you take the time to connect with patients on a deeper level and you strategically find ways to spend most of your time with people who care about their health in the first place.

L.D. Pankey wisely said, “People change, but not very much.” And that’s a critically important life lesson, one that took me years to accept because I thought my philosophy would psychologically trump theirs, and I would therefore win the day. I was wrong – very wrong.

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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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Your Patients Want to Know…How to Better Control Diabetes through Oral Health

October 23, 2019 Deborah Bush, MA

When it comes to diabetes, let your patients know about the impact oral inflammation can have on their health. Explain what you can do to help them and what they can do to help themselves. Clarify what they can do to take control so that they can live happier, longer lives.

Give your patients optimal assistance.

Include questions in your health interview about whether the patient has been diagnosed with diabetes, has been counseled about being at risk (prediabetic), and/or has a family history of diabetes. If your patient affirmatively answers to any of these questions, inquire about what they know about the link between gum inflammation and systemic diseases, such as diabetes.

Gently, explain why you are concerned.

Even if it is slight, gum inflammation is harmful when chronic. Let them know that among other health problems, persistent inflammation exacerbates diabetes and development of diabetes. It would help to tell them a story about an anonymous dental patient whose blood sugar decreased over a matter of six months and improved again within a year due to the elimination of gum inflammation.

Invite your patients to begin a new oral health regimen.

Let them know that you will partner with them to track their compliance, evaluation, and improvement. Inspire them with a story about another anonymous patient whose oral health and diabetes was improved by starting a healthier regimen.  They too can experience the healing power of making healthy choices and developing healthy habits throughout their life.

Your patients will start to report to their physicians, family, and friends about the conversations you have had with them. They will all be able to see the efforts you are making to control inflammation in their mouths, and the evidence of improved health. You might begin to see referrals from these patients and their doctors start to follow.

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Deborah Bush, MA

Deb Bush is a freelance writer specializing in dentistry and a subject matter expert on the behavioral and technological changes occurring in dentistry. Before becoming a dental-focused freelance writer and analyst, she served as the Communications Manager for The Pankey Institute, the Communications Director and a grant writer for the national Preeclampsia Foundation, and the Content Manager for Patient Prism. She has co-authored and ghost-written books for dental authorities, and she currently writes for multiple dental brands which keeps her thumb on the pulse of trends in the industry.

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