Four teens laughing and walking in a hallway

3 Ways to Motivate a Teen Patient

Aug 03, 2018

Author: Jen Collins,RDH

Motivating a teenage patient is a team effort. There are only so many times a parent can tell them to brush their teeth. That is where dental hygienists can help in establishing good oral hygiene habits in teen patients. A teenager should be visiting the dentist at least twice a year, so make the most of these appointments. Here are three ways to engage and encourage adolescent patients to take good care of their oral health.

1. Get to Know Your Teen Patient

Teen patients have busy lives, so there are plenty of conversation topics from which to choose. Ask them about their classes, or any sports or extra-curricular activities they're passionate about. If you grew up and went to high school in the same town where you work, you can reminisce about what the teachers and the building itself were like many years ago.

After the appointment, make notes in their charts about what you talked about. For example, if you saw your teen patient in August, six months later, ask how the school year and new grade is going and how he or she is adjusting. When you get to know your teen patients, it lets them know that you care not only about their oral health but also about them as people. This may help ease anxiety and show your teen patients that you are there to help them.

2. Educate and Explain Findings

Visual tools and easy-to-understand explanations are key. Showing your teenage patients your findings may have an impact on their home care regimen. For example, give your teen patients a mirror to see your findings and show them how to properly treat each area. Take intraoral photos of areas where you see inflammation and bleeding. Explain that you will keep the photos in their charts in the hope of seeing improvements at their follow-up visits.

Using Colgate's Gum Health Physical, you can highlight focus areas and show interactive videos on home care instructions. You can also customize report cards and send your teen patients home with them to use as a reminder to pay special attention to certain teeth while they brush and floss. You can also explain why they need to do something more, such as explaining to your teenage ortho patients why they are being told to use Colgate Prevident Booster Plus instead of regular toothpaste to help prevent decay around braces. Team up with parents. Fill them in on any findings or recommendations you have, and encourage parents to schedule follow-up appointments.

However, be careful not to lecture them when you are handing them instructions. (They get enough lecturing!) If teens interpret your oral hygiene lessons as scolding, they may dread their next appointment, fearing that their dental hygienist will talk them to sternly.

3. Offer Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is especially important for teenage patients. Keeping them engaged can be tough, especially if they are shy. You can help motivate them to keep their mouths clean. For example, explain that good oral hygiene is not only good for preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Good oral hygiene is also key to having fresh breath, a concern teenagers will take seriously in the years to come.


  • Talk about topics teen patients may be passionate about.
  • Use visual tools to educate young patients about how to improve their oral health.
  • Motivate teenage patients and engage them in their oral health.

Why It's Valuable

Great oral hygiene habits should begin at a young age, so it is key to encourage teen patients to take ownership of their oral health. Dental hygienists can motivate teenagers by offering positive reinforcement and carefully explaining how to do so in ways that are easy to understand. If you are able to connect with your teenage patients, they may be more likely to follow recommendations and keep regular appointments.

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