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Oral Hygiene Habits

Tips to Help Patients Adopt Strong Oral Hygiene Habits

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Patient education for the adoption of strong habits is essential. 

One thing is clear: when it comes to instituting behavior change and integrating these rituals, practitioners will generally have much more success when they take on the role of collaborator rather than instructor. In this article, we’ll explore some recommended ways to partner with patients and become teammates on the journey to better oral health.

Why is patient education important?

Knowledge is power. When dental professionals are able to communicate information and recommendations in a clear, compelling and memorable way, patients are empowered to take control of their oral care and are likely to achieve much better outcomes.

  • It is essential to educate patients about the following:
  • The Benefits of a Complete and Effective Oral Care Ritual at Home
  • The risks associated with inadequate or insufficient oral care
  • What they should do to take care of their teeth and gums

Education is the cornerstone of behavior change, which has become a focal point in the world of dentistry. But education is not something you can simply shape into a uniform concept and apply to every patient in the same way. It totally depends on the patient you have in front of you. What are his needs and what does he really want? Where is he right now, and where does he want to go? What are their current knowledge and skills? For education to be successful, it is essential to get to know the patient in front of you, discover their personal goals and align them with your own.

organized a webinar on this topic, with experts Prof. Dr. Timothy Newton and Dr. Mario Rui Araújo, who shared their thoughts on supporting oral health behavior change in adults :

During this webinar, survey results were presented, including lack of patient motivation, cited by practitioners as the biggest barrier to effective behavior change, by far. But is this really the case?

“I actually think that the patient’s lack of motivation is not necessarily a problem of the patient themselves, but a problem of not finding the right key to unlocking their

Although professionals play a major role in the management of oral problems, the ideal scenario would be to help patients avoid these treatments through preventive care. For this, you would also need the motivation of your patient, and a tailor-made education can help bring out this motivation.

How should professionals educate their patients about home care?

 Each practitioner will undoubtedly have their favorite methods, but at some point it is crucial to overcome the greatest challenges when it comes to information retention and forming habits.

Establish a relationship of trust

Individuals listen to and assimilate the advice of people they trust. This is as true for the practitioner/patient relationship as for any other type. Establishing a relationship of trust is essential for conveying information and encouraging action.

Initiate the dynamic less like a teacher/student, and more like two teammates striving to achieve the same goals. You want your patient not to feel like they have to stick to an oral care routine, but to be more energetic and invested in it. Don’t give them the impression that they will be “scolded” on their next visit if they haven’t followed the instructions, rather make them feel that you will recognize the progress made together.

Some tips for instilling confidence in your educational methods:

  • Adopt a common goal-setting approach, in which professional and patient work together to set realistic goals for home care.
  • Ask questions and learn about your patient. Empathize with their own challenges and obstacles. Then tailor your advice to their specific situation.
  • Be understanding and open. Discuss difficulties you may have had in the past with your own oral care rituals or with respecting other valuable habits. Share the solutions you have implemented.

Use systematic approaches to habit formation and behavior change

There is no universally effective way to lead to behavior change and habit formation. But there are many models and processes with their roots in psychology that have been shown to work in a variety of cases. Once you have established a solid rapport and a high level of understanding with your patient, you may be better equipped to determine the best option.

How are habits formed?

A popular model is the Health Action Process Approach  (HAPA), which “suggests that the adoption, initiation, and maintenance of health behaviors should be explicitly framed as a process that includes at least one phase of motivation and a phase of volition”. You can click on the link for more information around the theory, which was developed by Ralf Schwarzer, professor of psychology at the Free University of Berlin in the early 1990s.

Self-monitoring is another common technique for forming habits. This involves the patient keeping a daily record of the behavior they want to change as a reminder and to hold themselves accountable. Another technique is habit stacking, in which a patient associates the new habit they would like to adopt with an already strongly ingrained habit (such as having a glass of water before bed every night).

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