Whose fault is it if a patient fails to act on advice? In truth, both the patient and the dental professional bear responsibility, because while a person is ultimately the decision-maker for their own teeth, it is up to the dental professional to motivate them to look after their teeth properly.
Motivation may be about addressing the patient’s lack of understanding, or changing their behaviour towards their oral health. It might also be about an apparent inability to listen.
The environment can also play a part, with the right dental equipment, and even dental surgery fit out, contributing to the patient’s motivation.
Patients and Advice
Some dentists might be forgiven for thinking that their patients are being deliberately obtuse in choosing not to follow professional advice.
But often, it is not a case that the patient is being deliberately irritating in ignoring advice, but that they are simply not taking it in. Long-term behaviour change takes time, and persistence, and an ability to explain things in such a way that non-professionals can grasp them.
Given that dental professionals should be assisting patients in achieving and maintaining good levels of dental health, what can they do to help motivate them to do this?
“The normal thing is to give advice, in the form of knowledge,” explains Pete Higson of RPA Dental, “but if patients interpret this advice as intrusive or critical, they may well ignore it.”
The key is to make the information feel important to patients. They must feel they have a stake in their own dental health needs.
One-to-one health education is a partnership, where the professional works with the patient to encourage them to identify their health needs. One way to do this is through motivational interviewing.
This technique encourages patients to talk about their own health and recognise their own behaviours when they hinder their dental health.
Patient-centredness works providing the professional identifies those patients in a state of readiness to engage. Identifying these patients then means the dentist can introduce a model based on stages of change.
Stages of change involves encouraging the patient’s awareness that they need to change their health behaviour; getting them to weigh up the pros and cons; preparing them to change; and finally getting them to act, to bring change about.
Obviously, the dental professional will only have a limited appointment time in which to do this, so the efficiency of examinations and procedures can make a huge difference.
The latest dental imaging equipment allows for greater manoeuvrability and a faster processing of results. It also provides the dentist with a visual back up for helping to explain dental health benefits to patients.
“The dental surgery itself can be an aid to patient motivation,” Pete points out. “The right fit out makes the surgery a more welcoming, comfortable place to visit, and provides the dentist with all the state-of-the-art tools to work at close hand.”