Your dental treatment plan is conservative and in the patient’s best interest—so why don’t they accept it?
I eat too much junk food. In fact, it’s widely known where I work, at the Arizona Dental Association (AzDA), that I have the same level of palette sophistication as a five-year-old. I know it, and I accept it. And yes, I know all about high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart problems. Still, I like Subway, pizza, tacos, and especially anything with sugar in it.
And yet, it may surprise you to learn that compared to most Americans, my “food IQ” is pretty high. I was a personal trainer for years. I still work out 4-5 times a week, and I do “try” to watch what I eat (when possible). I don’t do the right thing (eating right), even though I know I should. That statement probably sounds like your patients when it comes to their oral health and treatment acceptance: they know what you’re advocating is right for them, but they don’t move forward. Frustrating.
Going back to my junk food problem, I actually cut out desserts last October. However, it wasn’t because my food IQ increased, or that I suddenly had an epiphany. I made the change in my diet based on something that happened: a life event. At last year’s Fall Conference in Tucson, I bumped into Past AzDA President Dr. Bryan Shanahan. He’d lost weight and looked trim and toned.
“How’d you do it?” I asked.
“Just working out and cutting out sugar,” he replied.
Well, there you have it. He just cut out sugar and worked out! I am already working out, so if I can make a point to cut out sugar, I’ve got a chance to get trimmed and toned too. Dr. Shanahan has a busy practice; he’s involved in leadership; has a social life; and he has children. If he can do this, I can too. That’s what led me to cut out desserts—a life event that made me feel different about my situation. It wasn’t my head (logic/IQ) that compelled me to make the change; it was my heart (emotion).
When it comes to your patients accepting more extensive treatment plans, they’re a lot like me. Some have low dental IQ, and some higher. However, there’s a point where all of the knowledge about good oral health isn’t going to induce them to move forward with treatment…until they experience a life event.
Dr. Paul Homoly, who recently spoke at a course offered here at AzDA, talked about this in terms of a mature patient who’s lived most of her life with flippers. She knew about implants and their advantages, but the cost and hassle in having them done wasn’t enough to compel her to move forward. She’d just live with the flippers. She was resistant about accepting the treatment plan, which included implants, right up until when she tried to give a peck on her granddaughter’s cheek. The granddaughter recoiled. “Grandma, you’re teeth are gross!” In that moment grandma experienced a life moment that totally changed how she felt about implants and her treatment plan. Within a month, she went forward with treatment.
The lesson in all of this is that dental IQ (educating your patient on the benefits on oral health) is invaluable, but many patients may still elect to forgo or at least delay treatment even though they know better. This becomes more prominent the more extensive and expensive the treatment is.
The challenge for you as their dentist is to keep them coming in for recare until they experience that life event. It may take a month, a year, or five years for patients to “see the light,” but make no mistake, it’s not because they suddenly got smarter about their oral health—something happened in their life that compelled them to move forward. That life event could be caused by a job, a spouse, an accident, a family member, a friend, or who knows what? You just need to make sure you’re still in the picture when the patient decides, “It’s time.”
As for me, I’ve done pretty well about not eating desserts. I’ve got a ways to go, but I am getting toned up. Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. S.