Have you ever had a perfect dental hygiene appointment … one where the patient listened to everything you educated them on, eagerly took notes on the products you recommended or didn’t close right after drying their teeth?

We all know this perfect hour comes rarely during the day. But have you ever stopped to think about what you could be doing differently to make each appointment better for you and for your patient?

If you haven’t, it’s probably time to watch “The Best Ever Hygiene Exam” course from Spear. In the course, Kim Miller, R.D.H., B.S.D.H., talks about many little differences we can do to make an appointment go a little smoother for both the patient and the clinician. Here are a few points she made:

Always do an extra- and intraoral cancer screening

These short screenings not only add an enormous amount of value to the appointment; they can also be life-saving. Oral cancer is on the rise, and when it is found, it is unfortunately typically in late stages. It is our job as their oral health provider to perform these screenings and educate at each recall appointment, especially checking the back of the throat and the lateral borders of the tongue.

Utilize an intraoral camera with your exams

When it comes to dentistry, seeing is definitely believing. If a patient can see what you’re educating on, whether it’s inflammation on the buccal of #2, a crack in a premolar or occlusal wear, intraoral photos will help the lesson go a lot more smoothly and will increase case acceptance. Intraoral photos are also great for record-keeping to see if recession or abfraction have changed.

They are also a great conversation starter for the patient. When they see decay, they want to talk about it and know how to change it.

Ask if the patient has questions

Even if you’re an amazing educator, how you teach may not be how your patient learns. Let’s say you’re full of great analogies, but the patient is from another country and they don’t make sense. Or maybe you have great pictures of a procedure, but it doesn’t click for a certain patient. To help calm your patient, ask if they have questions and genuinely wait for their response. Being willing to listen and answer will show your patient that you care.

Don't use the "F" word!

And no, not your typical F word that you sometimes think after a tough day. Instead, drop the word “Find” or “Found” from your exam vocabulary. “Finding” decay or periodontal disease has the patient thinking you’re on a hunt to find a problem, instead of the patient already having the condition. Instead, change to the words “presents with today,” “you have” or  “are you aware of this problem?”

Little changes to your vocabulary and your exam routine can make a big impact on your patients. What do you do in your exam to focus your care on the patient?

Melia Lewis, R.D.H., B.S.D.H., is a dental hygiene educator from Utah and a co-creator of Hygiene Edge, an online education platform for dental professions. She can be reached at melialewisrdh@gmail.com.