Woman looking at her teeth with a yellow hand-held mirror

How to Get Your Patients to Care About Caries Prevention

Date: Oct 29, 2018

Author: Lisa Knowles, D.D.S

It is frustrating to watch our patients engage in caries risk behaviors. From drinking sugary beverages to ignoring xerostomia, they are placing their teeth and their overall health in jeopardy. As dental professionals, what can we do? Read on for some new strategies to educate and motivate your patients to care about caries prevention.

Teach Whole Mouth Health

As hard as it may be, we can't expect patients to be experts on the human body and all of its processes. Whole mouth and whole body health are a part of our vocabularies and our beliefs as care providers. We understand that a high-sugar diet can lead not only to dental caries, but also to diabetes and poor kidney health, as the National Institutes of Health notes. A cavity seems minuscule in comparison to these serious systemic diseases.

To understand caries prevention and increase their own self-motivating factors, our patients often need more education than we sometimes might think. For example, we must help them understand how a cavity forms before we can expect them to change anything to prevent cavities.

I cannot tell you how many times I've asked my cavity-prone patients, "Do you know what causes cavities?" and gotten a blank stare in response. I first explain that sugar plus bacterial plaque forms acid. Then, I spend a fair amount of time breaking down this formula with them.

Ask About Habits

After we explain how a cavity forms, we must ask again if there is anything in their lifestyle that may be putting them at risk for tooth decay. Patients may not understand dental plaque formation, but they understand lifestyle factors. Talk about the lesser-known caries risks, such as drinking alcohol or certain medications. It's best to not shame or blame patients for their choices, but to understand them and offer less damaging options, like diet soda at first before a total elimination of soda. A coaching tone is more effective than a lecturing, scolding approach.

Discuss patients' capabilities when it comes to home care. What are their barriers to brushing and flossing nightly? Are they using a toothpaste like Colgate Cavity Protection that strengthens teeth with active fluoride? Are they thoroughly removing plaque each night? Give out disclosing solution or tablets to help them check at home. You can also recommend and use an in-office fluoride treatment like Colgate PreviDent Varnish for at-risk patients.

Teach Patients to Self-Assess

Have each patient fill out a questionnaire at the end of their appointment and see if they can identify their own caries risk factors. This series of questions helps patients and providers recognize what is affecting cavity rates and helps to catch any factors not yet discovered.

It is necessary to help our patients understand how their whole mouth and systemic health are connected. Knowledge of the consequences gives our patients the motivation they need to help change their behaviors. Regular caries risk assessments provide you and your patients the opportunity to identify hazards before cavities start.