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Trying to Come to Terms with the P Word? Take a Tip From the Gynecologist!

Trying to Come to Terms with the P Word? Take a Tip From the Gynecologist!
Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH

Why are we so damn scared to use the P word with our patients?


The American Academy of Periodontology reports that half of Americans aged 30 or older has periodontitis, the more advanced form of periodontal disease. This equals approximately 64.7 million Americans.1

Even with these staggering statistics, so many hygienists say they feel uncomfortable telling a patient they haven’t seen in a year or two that they have signs of periodontal disease.

I also see new hygienists who witness a LOT of undiagnosed periodontal disease, but the office will tell them: “We don’t want to scare patients away so don’t tell them they need perio therapy.”

Are you one of those that fear telling your patients they have the “P” word, because they might not return for therapy because their insurance won’t pay? Or are you concerned that your patient can’t afford non-surgical periodontal therapy so you decide not to tell them the truth about what is going on with their oral health?

If you have a gynecology exam or colonoscopy, don’t you want to know the truth about your health? It’s the same with your patients. Patients go to their doctor to hear the uncomfortable truth. It is your job to tell them.


We all deserve to know the truth about our oral and our systemic health, even if it is uncomfortable.

So how can we tell the truth about perio with those hard patients and get them to appreciate you helping them live a longer and healthier life?


Below are 5 tips to turn your periodontal patients into raving fans.

Build rapport

Studies show the number 1 reason patients will say “Yes” to your care is because they trust you.


Sit with your patient knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye

Get “caught-up” on the latest in their life (about 2 minutes of your time) and stay seated with them while you explain what you will be doing during their appointment.

Patients do have a tendency to say “That hygienist is the one who always lectures me!” Sitting in this position not only builds rapport but also removes the doctor/patient discomfort many patients resent.


Explain to your patient that you will do a few abnormality screenings.

For example: Tell your patient, “I am going to do a periodontal exam.” Saying, “I am going to check your gums” means nothing to your patient.

Show patients the ruler (i.e. periodontal probe) you will use to take measurements around their gums and tell them you will call out some numbers. Engage your patient in each step of your exam and hygiene appointment.

Partner with your patients. 

Take away “finding” problems in their mouth and work together with your patients to “co-diagnose.” Include your patients in the discovery process. Step 3 is only the beginning of your partnership with your patient.


Show your patients what you see in their mouth.

Have you ever heard a patient say, “I don’t like coming to the dentist because they always find something!” Take that away and use the word “see” and the phrase such as this: “Mr. Patient, let’s take a look at what we see today.”

Use the intraoral camera and show your patient what is going on in their mouth.

By using these 5 tips you will change the negative “P” word and help patients understand that you care about their total health. We are in the business of helping our patients live a longer and healthier life.

Creating a partnership with your patients is a great way to get them to say “YES” to your care and this is one way to create raving fans.


Do you have any other tips you find helpful? Let us know in the comments!



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