Coaching Tips for Patients

October 16, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of presenting coaching tips for patients to dental hygiene students at the Florida Dental Hygienist’s Association meeting.   I’m sure many of them wondered about the topic.  After all, mastering the art of scaling teeth is generally a top priority since it’s a necessary element in passing board exams.  Yet as I told them, all of you will learn to scale teeth.   The harder piece to learn is how to motivate patients.

Most of us haven’t received any formal training on the art of behavior change.   Much of what we glean is through trial and error.   And often, it’s easier to figure out what doesn’t work than what does.   Repeating the same information again and again is tiring – for us and our patients.

If you want to gain some new insight into behavior change, I highly recommend the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Health.   Don’t be surprised if some of what you learn is counterintuitive to our traditional approach.

One of the best things I learned from the Heath brothers was how to reframe my approach to self-care.  For example, what is one reason we often hear for not flossing?  How about too busy or not enough time?   I know you’ve heard it, and I know you didn’t buy it.

What if you asked your patient this; ‘in addition to tooth brushing, how much time do you have to clean in between your teeth?”  Do you think they would say they have at least one minute or even two?  I bet they would.   So following the Heath philosophy, you would then introduce the product you want them to use.  You might say something like “one product that can be used in one minute is a Water Flosser.” Would you be interested in trying it?

Time is everyone’s most precious commodity and one we can’t get back.  I encourage you to try this approach and share your results.