October is the month in which the dental hygienists are celebrated for their nagging efforts to make their patients healthier. After almost 2 decades in dentistry I’ve learned that my patients don’t care about cavities or whether or not they have gum disease. I’ve talked and, yes, actually nagged my patients for years to brush better or floss more or they would have to suffer through listening to the same recorded message again at the next appointment. I am done fighting with patients who don’t want to listen to me anymore. I am giving up because I care.
To celebrate National Dental Hygiene Month I’m changing the relationship I have with my current patients and will have with my future ones, by making some promises that I plan to keep. (1) I promise to tell you what’s important to you, not to me (2) I will only teach you to avoid dental diseases like cavities and gum disease if you want to learn how (Psst, here’s a secret, all dental disease is preventable and learning how to prevent it can save you thousands of dollars!) and (3) I will always tell them if their breath smells worse than a sewer…because I care.
The reason I am making these promises is because I’m tired of butting heads with my patients and them not getting healthier. Our goals have always been different. My goal is to tell them if they could have a life threatening illness and a decreased quality of life due to a bacterial infection of the gums called periodontal disease and get them to treat it. Most patients don’t care if their gums bleed because of this infection, even if they should be running to the nearest dental office if they do. What is their goal? Their goal is to get out of the office without me saying the dreaded “F” word. If they have to hear the word floss one more time they’re going to lunge at me and strangle me with the bib clips watching my face turn blue. I see it in their eyes!
For years I’ve given them information they don’t want to hear. I know bleeding gums means an infection has already invited its way in and is causing inflammation in their arteries making them sicker every day. I know that it contributes to high blood pressure, heart attacks strokes, the inability to maintain good blood sugar levels and that it even could cause premature babies. Unfortunately, they only hear this message at their dental checkups. Medical doctors have too much on their plates to discuss oral health with them and pump them with medications to control these symptoms so they can move onto their next patient. Since we are the only ones talking about how bleeding gums are bad I’m going to stop sounding like a crazy person trying to get them to understand.
I will focus on the affect of the bleeding gums on their everyday lives. Family and friends won’t tell them that their breath smells like a landfill in the middle of a summer full of 100 degree days. So it’s actually my job to tell them that the bacterial infection causing bleeding is making their gums rot causing their breath to smell like a decomposing corpse. (Yes, cadaverine is a smell caused by bacteria). For years I tiptoed around this fact and instead told them a complicated message they didn’t care about. For that, I am sorry.
If you were to visit me for your dental hygiene visit what would our new goal be? Do you want whiter and straighter teeth? Would you want to learn how to stop paying money to have cavities fixed? Do you not want to have to wear dentures like your parents did? Your goal is now mine. I will tell you what I see, feel and smell because you deserve that. I am here to get you healthier but only when you want to. Until then, I’ll be waiting.