Trying to come to terms with the P word?

By April 1, 2016 No Comments

Why are we afraid to use the “P” word with patients?

The American Academy of Periodontology reports that half of Americans age 30 or older has chronic periodontitis, a more advanced periodontal disease. In 2012 it was estimated that 64.7 Americans had this disease. 1

With these staggering statistics, so many hygienists still feel uncomfortable telling their patients they have not seen in a year or longer, that they now have periodontal disease.

Hygienists say that they witness a lot of undiagnosed periodontal disease and their employer will be concerned that if the hygienist does tell the patient they have periodontal disease that the patient will be angry and go to another dental practice who will tell them everything looks great in their mouth!

“We don’t want to scare patients away by telling them they need periodontal therapy.” is a phrase we still hear in today’s world, all too often.


Are you one of these dental professionals who fears telling your patients the terrible “P” word thinking they won’t accept treatment because “no one else ever told them they have this disease or their insurance won’t pay for all the necessary treatment?

Everyone deserves to know the truth about their oral and systemic health, even if it does feel uncomfortable to tell them.

Imagine you go to your gynecologist for that annual exam, don’t you want to know the truth about your health? What if you have a colonoscopy and the doctor finds a polyp, do you want to know if it is cancerous or benign?

You answered yes, didn’t you? We all deserve to know the truth about our health and a dental practice should be no different than a medical practice. It is our role as healthcare professionals to tell our patients the truth about their oral and systemic health even if it does feel uncomfortable.

How can we get this message communicated to those patients who may not think they want to hear the “P” word? How do we get our patients to understand that dentistry is about treating the “Whole” body? How do we tell them that their oral health relates to their total health?

3 Tips to Turn Your Periodontal Patients into Raving Fans for Life!

1. Build rapport
Studies show the number 1 reason patients will say “Yes” to your care is because their trust you. Remember dentistry is not just about treating teeth but about creating life-long, caring relationships with people.

2. Tone is over 50% of the conversation
Building a relationship with your patient begins at the first “hello.” It is more than sitting your patient back in the chair. Building rapport continues while you are seated with your patient for maybe just two minutes to “get caught-up” or “get to know them.”

Spend a few minutes chit-chatting about your patient. Listen to them. Find out what is important to them. You are seated knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye just getting to know them and them creating a partnership to discover what is happening in their mouth and body.

3. Explain to your patient that you will be doing a few abnormality screenings.
Say words like “Together we will check the health of your gums. We will look for bleeding which is a sign of disease. I will use a ruler (show your patient the periodontal probe) to take some measurements around your gums, etc.”

Engage your patient every step of the way throughout your exam process.

By using these 3 tips you will change that negative connotation, the “P” word, into a positive experience for the patient and your practice. Now patients understand how much you care for them when you create a partnership with them.

This is just one way to get more patients to say “YES” to treatment and create raving fans of your dental practice. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Do you have any other helpful tips to get patients to accept periodontal therapy? Please feel free to share.

About the author:
Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BSBittke Debbie16B (1)

Debbie is founder of Dental Hygiene Solutions which is powered by Dental Practice Solutions. Debbie has a holistic approach to increasing productivity and profitability of the dental hygiene department.

She is a former clinical assistant professor from the University of Southern California. In 2007 Debbie started a new dental hygiene program in Portland, Oregon.

Debbie has spoken at national dental meetings and works with dentists throughout the world building profitable dental hygiene departments.

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