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Updated: May 17

Just the other day one of my patients, Ellen, came into my operatory, sat in my chair, and looking through the large windows facing the Seattle skies said without hesitation, "I wish I was in El Paso."

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Ellen told me about a crazy weather phenomenon. "Lots of times in El Paso it rains as it does in Seattle, but the rain never hits the ground! It evaporates before it gets there."

What Ellen said really interested me, because it seems to me that rain prevented from reaching the ground is analogous to today's clinical research not reaching the operatory. The information that we now know seems to evaporate before hygienists can use it chairside.

Depending on available resources, hygienists may not have the opportunity to harness information from scientific studies when they treat their patients. Sure, most hygienists want to do the right thing for their patients for the right reasons, but many hygienists do not have the tools to transform clinical research into practice. That said, whatever your situation, the onus is on you.

Overlooking or ignoring clinically-based evidence for whatever reason can have a catastrophic impact on a patient's overall health and wellness, and open the door for disease.

The status quo dictates that patients' conditions are underdiagnosed and undertreated. For example, records depict that approximately 80% of hygiene procedures are coded as adult

prophies (1110), which entails above-the-gums scaling and polishing in the presence of health rather than periodontal therapy in the presence of disease. Yet nine out of 10 people show evidence of gum disease, suggesting that a significant portion of these adult prophies should have been transitioned into periodontal therapies.

Sadly, this practice, as perpetuated by many hygienists, creates a negative trend in patients' health and wellness. Today, many of us continue to focus on scraping calculus off teeth with hand instruments in a bloody environment. Often, we take a full 40 out of 60 minutes to remove the calculus that has formed since a patient's last visit, leaving little time for anything else. We would like to do more for our patients, such as conduct life-saving screenings, but we simply cannot find the time. So, we carry on -- business as usual.


I changed my thinking.

I firmly believe that when you change the way you think about things, the things that you think about will change. Committed to this idea, I carried it over into my practice to better take care of my patients. I consciously shifted my thinking from a model of disease to a model of health. Instead of settling for the status quo, I decided to prepare my patients for a healthier tomorrow.

To make this shift, I thought about what I wanted to be for my patients. I want to be someone who can help them accomplish their goals (e.g., getting healthy, having a gorgeous smile, etc.). Yet, I perceive that the change has to begin with me. I need to redefine myself as a patient coach -- someone who cheers her patients on to success.

I decided to quit thinking that my boss is to blame for not "letting" me do more, that my patients are to blame for their "low dental IQ," and that insurance companies are to blame for "limiting" the care that I can provide my patients. Essentially, I had so many excuses. My own attitude and core beliefs have held me back.

In shifting my thinking, I found that I was less judgmental of and more accountable to my boss, my fellow hygienists, and my patients, which meant that overall I was a better team member. By changing my limiting beliefs to empowering beliefs, I was inspired to do better. That was all I needed to get the ball rolling.

It's Time to Change Your Message

What you tell your patients directly affects their health and wellness, so your message must be "sticky." It must be memorable, practical, and personal so that you can share with your patients newer and better ways to help them reach their goals.

In shifting my message, I found that I was no longer just handing out a dose of parenting with a package of dental floss or reciting the same script to everyone. Rather, I was inspiring my patients to be accountable for their own health and wellness by keeping them actively engaged in their own care.

When I sit down with my patients, I start with, "This is how I'm going to treat you today, this is why I'm doing it this way, and this is what it means to you."

The values, beliefs, and protocols of your practice may be incredibly solid, but you make a mistake if you assume that your patients know what these values and beliefs are and why they are important.

Be the messenger! The idea is to guide your patients to their own solutions -- to give them what they want, not what you think that they should have. Use your message to build a relationship with your patients, like one they have never had before. By the way, doing this will inspire your patients to tell others about you and your practice.


Author Jo Berry once wrote, "It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting." In short, don't overthink it, just take action!

At some point, I realized that what I was doing was not working. The basic pattern of recare had not changed in over 20 years. By not changing my approach, I had participated in my patients' perpetual disease state. It was time to develop a new course of action.

Granted, I did not make the shift alone. In the beginning, I took baby steps. I worked with mentors and like-minded peers. Once I shifted my way of thinking and developed a new message, I was ready to change my clinical habits. Mind you, it was not easy at first, but it did get easier with each step.

Believe it or not, with the right mindset and the right message, it is possible for you to shift away from business as usual. And here's the good news -- if you shift your way of thinking and your message, you will have time to screen patients for high blood pressure, oral cancer, sleep disorders, diabetes, periodontal disease, and biofilm infection -- all of which play a role in oral health as well as systemic health.


Information has the power to raise awareness, and awareness has the power to effect positive results. We ask our experts to tell us about new and effective treatment methods for our patients. We ask our patients to tell us what they want and value the most for themselves.

The thing is, to shift your ways, you have to be willing to "surrender what and who you are today for what and who you can become" tomorrow. There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

The moment you make the decision to change, you will be inspired. You will set in motion a new direction and destination for your life and practice.

Let the shift begin.

Become a Dental LifeGuard™

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