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Patient Satisfaction and Oral Health at Home: The Better They Do at Home, the More They Like You

by Smart Mouth

Educating your patients about their oral health is not just beneficial for their overall well-being. Improved care at home is an excellent way to increase patient satisfaction. The reason for that is pretty simple. Namely, the more time they spend at home caring for their gums and teeth, the shorter the average length of their appointments. 

There may be some correlative evidence to show that oral health and patient satisfaction have a direct relationship. In a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, patients older than 39 years old were less satisfied with dental care services than younger patients. Why is that significant? Because those younger patients may just need fewer invasive and costly dental procedures than older patients.

The more your patients can care for themselves at home, the fewer fillings and oral surgeries they require. By reducing the overall time you and your staff spend on each patient, the more patients you can treat. 

What is the Financial Impact of Seeing More Patients Per Day?

Cutting down on patient time in the chair doesn’t just increase patient satisfaction. It also increases revenue. A good rule of thumb is that an increase of $50/hour for your practice works out to roughly $70,000 more in annual revenue. The bottom line is that more patients in the chair every day…is good for your bottom line.

Sure, there are organizational things you can do before the patient gets there. Encourage your staff to streamline exam room set-up time as much as they can. Take advantage of updated appointment software that generates auto reminders to your patients to cut down on late arrivals and no-shows. Start the day with brief team meetings so everyone in the office is on the same page before the first patient even arrives.

Taking similar steps ensures that your office runs smoothly. But what advice can you provide patients so they do their part to get the most (which in this case, is less!) out of their time in your office?

Educate Them About Oral Health

When patients come to see you, they are expecting sound, reasonable, and expert advice. You are, after all, the trained professional and their healthcare provider. Warn them gently about the negative effects of poor oral hygiene over time. “Gently” is the key word there. While patients love advice, they probably don’t want to be lectured.

Use phrases like “Do you mind if I share some of my observations with you?” to initiate a sensitive discussion. Share clinical information with them as soon as you have it, particularly if it’s available from an x-ray or data collected during the exam. 

As good as you are at your job, it’s safe to assume that very few of your patients really want to come back for follow-up visits or secondary procedures, like deep cleanings, scalings, fillings, and so on. So be very clear about the one-to-one relationship between oral hygiene (brushing with fluoride toothpaste, using mouthwashes or rinses that reduce plaque and gingivitis, flossing at least once a day, etc.) and the amount of time (and money) they spend in your chair. 

Recommend Quality Products and Provide Samples

Your expertise can come in the form of product advice. Patients in fact expect to learn your preferred brands of:

  • Electric toothbrushes
  • Dental floss
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Mouthwash 

Along with your sound advice, provide your patients with a range of samples of your favorite products that you recommend to them. One, providing them with those products could encourage them to actually use them sooner. Second, if you can recommend OTC solutions rather than prescription rinses, particularly if they reduce side effects like teeth staining and reduced taste alteration, the more likely they are to use it regularly.

Lastly, when you provide product recommendations, your patients feel like they’re getting a custom-tailored and personalized experience, making it that much more likely they’ll remain compliant.

Improving Quality of Life is Critical to Patient Satisfaction

If the eyes are a window to the soul, the mouth is often a window into a patient’s health conditions or history. Using a consultative and compassionate approach increases and establishes trust about their overall health conditions on an ongoing basis.

As an example, dry mouth is not always a sign of serious underlying problems, but it’s a side effect of common medications that treat a range of health conditions from cancer to incontinence, asthma, hypertension, and more. For patients who suddenly find themselves struggling with such side effects, they may be too frustrated, or even embarrassed, to discuss it with you.

Also, many physicians may not be as clarifying as they should ideally be about side effects of new medications. Your patient might be genuinely confused or unaware of why they’re experiencing the sudden or unexpected onset of symptoms related to dry mouth. In fact, clarifying questions like “Are you having any trouble swallowing?” could be an excellent way to introduce the topic.

Other simple and direct questions like “Have you recently started taking any of these medications?” with a list of those medications that are linked to dry mouth is another excellent way to broach that discussion. 

Revisit those conversations with regular questionnaires and treatment summaries before or during an exam. Remember, a patient could be too ashamed to bring up those symptoms, particularly if they’re related to something outside the dental office. 

Improved Health at Home is Good for Everyone

The better a patient’s overall oral care at home, the less time they spend in your chair. Reducing the average appointment time also is likely to increase your revenue opportunities. For more information about patient handouts and other fun initiatives, contact us today.