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Understanding patient behaviour to educate and motivate

Post date: 02/05/2023 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 17/05/2023

Dental Protection member and award-winning hygienist Amber Ojak (Instagram: @theedinburghdentalhygienist) explores how taking the time to understand patient behaviour can be key in improving oral hygiene and treating periodontal disease. 

Education, motivation and encouragement of patients are at the core of what we want to deliver when treating patients in practice. Three years on from Covid-19, it has been eye-opening to the see the changes in patients’ beliefs, habits and needs when it comes to their dental care. Many have put off coming to see the dentist due to worries about Covid, not being able to get suitable appointments, fear of the dentist, or just forgetfulness.  Because of this, a key challenge that’s arisen is the management of periodontal disease.   

As a dental hygienist, I’ve found that education should be the first step when approaching a case like this. This means going ‘back to basics’ and educating patients on any worries or issues they may have. A lot of periodontal problems may not have been identified due to not being seen by a professional and patients often have a lot of questions around this. Taking the time to talk them through the aetiology of disease and how it occurs is vital, followed by talking about any other potential contributing factors such as medical conditions or even stress. Before covid I found a lot of my advice to patients was focused on basic oral hygiene, whereas patients now are increasingly interested in other aspects such as links with other systemic diseases or the effect of periodontal disease on their overall health. 
After education, it all about motivation. This goes back to oral hygiene instruction and looking at how we can influence our patients to be proactive in their oral health. To do this, I like to tap into ‘appreciative enquiry techniques’ by looking at four different stages: Discovery, dream, design and destiny. The first – discovery - looks into the patients past and the moments where they’ve managed best with their oral health and dental habits. This helps to identify what has worked to their advantage. For the dream stage, create a goal for the patients using what their ideal dental picture would look like if they had one specific aim in mind. Design and destiny then helps us put together a plan on what steps we need to take to achieve these aspirations and determine what’s best for the patient. I have found that breaking it down in this way can really help patients feel motivated and empowered to make positive change. 

After motivation, the final stage is encouragement, which is key. A lot of my patients have come in a bit deflated or severely anxious about deterioration in their gums but telling them that we understand how they feel, validating their concerns and encouraging them to keep going at their routines at home can offer them additional comfort that they are not alone.  


Learning to tap into patients’ behaviour has been key in helping me successfully treat a lot of periodontal cases recently. We are all creatures of habit and by looking at the motivations of an individual and setting out an achievable plan can really help them get on board with our advice as dental care professionals. I really look forward to seeing if there are any more changes within my patients' behaviours as we move further into the post-COVID era.  


To hear more from Amber around her EME approach, check out our podcast The Torque

Our host Lesley Harrison, Dentolegal Consultant, is joined by Amber. The pair take a deep dive into Amber’s career so far, from studying dental hygiene and therapy at Edinburgh University to winning ‘Best Hygienist Scotland’ in 2021.


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