What’s the secret to social acceptance, upward mobility, meaningful relationships, quality employment options, and positive self-esteem?
Your smile. Yes, poor oral health really can determine whether you reach the top rung of your potential ladder – or not.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “top rung” kind of person, lots can get in the way of feeling good about your smile. The most common issues are
- Tooth decay.
- Gum disease.
- Enamel erosion.
- Gum recession.
- Missing teeth.
To varying degrees, any one of these problems can lead to infection and pain – and a cascade of other problems. As dental disease progresses, you may find it harder to chew. Difficulty chewing can end in getting fewer nutrients from food. Less nutrient availability can decrease overall health. A decrease in overall health contributes to inflammation. Inflammation in the mouth has been linked to a growing number of systemic health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.
On an emotional level, self-consciousness about your mouth can keep you from smiling with confidence. Since smiling breaks down interpersonal barriers, not smiling can contribute to feelings of isolation and depression.
Even when you try to be your own best advocate, dental issues can crop up. Just because you take an active role in our health, it doesn’t mean you don’t need support.
The truth is, advocates need allies – someone who can understand where you are and where you want to be, and support you in the process. When it comes to oral health, your hygienist is that ally.
Routine hygiene visits are the preventative measure to keep things running smoothly. Not only are six month hygiene visits motivating; they reveal any issues early on, when they can be more easily treated. They give you the opportunity to address any concerns and get professional input.
But sometimes the thing we need most becomes the hardest to obtain. Fear gets in the way – fear of a diagnosis, of treatment, of pain, and of the cost. But for many, the biggest fear preventing them from reaching out to an ally who could help is the fear of judgment.
A great example of this appeared in a recent RDH Magazine advice column. The letter writer had been taken to task by her boss after a patient complained of being “lectured” about his smoking. The advice she got highlights some important ideas.
- While we agree that doctors should support their staff members, we don’t think it should be just because those members were hired to perform a job. An office that is truly care-focused has a vision for how that care will be provided and communicated to clients. This vision of care is generally shaped by the doctor and communicated to staff in meetings. Staff training empowers each member of the office to act and support the doctor’s overall vision.
- Relationships determine outcomes. A well-led office communicates in a way that fits the dentist’s vision of care. In the example of the smoker, it appears the doctor’s response was to threaten to fire the hygienist. It was also an opportunity missed. Reviewing both the patient’s and the hygienist’s comments and entering into a conversation would have had the potential to help many more patients overall. The smoker was not being a “jerk.” He was likely feeing judged. Since it had been three years since his last cleaning, maybe fear of being judged not only kept him away, but made him feel defensive. With proper training the hygienist might have understood that, and provided input with more sensitivity.
- Effective communication requires reciprocity between patient and staff. This means exchanging conversation for mutual benefit. Your hygienist reviews your health history and other details so they can provide individualized care. The more clearly you can communicate changes in your medical history, medications, dental issues, and any apprehensions, the more you help us understand how to communicate best with you and provide you with the customized care you both need and deserve.
- Understanding goes a long way in creating an allied relationship. We sometimes have to share bad news first. It’s never meant as a judgment. It’s our professional view of what we see. We do our best to deliver this information in a helpful way so together we can devise the best strategy for solving the problem. No doubt, sharing difficult information can bring up feelings. In our office, these feelings are valued. They’re a necessary component in helping you reach your personal health goals.
If dental issues are getting between you are your smile, maybe it’s time to touch base with your dental ally, your hygienist.
Image by Vadim Cojuhov