Good oral hygiene throughout orthodontic treatment is critical to an optimal outcome. While it can be challenging to motivate patients to brush properly, there are some methods I use in my orthodontic practice to increase compliance and encourage better oral hygiene habits in kids and adults.
A great motivator, I find, is showing the patient a photo of decalcification due to poor brushing. Nobody wants to end up with decalcification on their teeth. It's permanent and unsightly. Seeing it versus hearing about it has a much more powerful impact. Teenagers specifically get lectured a lot, and they tend to tune out advice from dental experts, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
When pointing out areas where patients are falling short, it's important to be positive about their progress -- even if it's a small improvement in the way they brush or floss. Let them know what a good job they're doing and show that you notice their efforts. Encouraging their healthy habits will motivate them to keep it up and find more ways to improve.
You can also motivate patients by explaining how poor oral hygiene leads to bad breath. If a patient brushes regularly but still struggles with bad breath, we may recommend a particular mouthwash or show them how to properly brush their tongue.
If a patient is struggling to build better hygiene habits or take care of their braces, it can be helpful to remind them about why they're undergoing treatment in the first place. One reason we go through orthodontic treatment is to have a dynamite smile, not just a healthy and functional bite. Telling them that the investment they're making now will pay off for the rest of their life could change their perspective.
Part of that investment includes the extra care they have to put in to take care of their teeth. It's important that patients understand their role in their treatment's success. We'll hold up our end of the bargain and give them a beautiful smile, but they're in charge of their oral hygiene.
If they don't do their part, their smile won't be quite as beautiful at the end of treatment. We want patients to take responsibility for their own oral health, and letting them know they have someone in their court to support them can encourage better hygiene habits.
It's usually easy to relay the importance of brushing to parents because of the financial aspect. Patients with poor oral health sometimes need fillings after completing orthodontic treatment, and this can get expensive!
When I teach younger patients about brushing and flossing around their braces, I show their parents as well. This way, adults can monitor and step in when needed. All health benefits aside, practicing good oral hygiene is a preventative measure that can save many families a lot of money.
These health benefits hold greater weight than many patients realize. Sometimes, patients fail to see how keeping their teeth clean can affect the rest of their body. If they develop gingivitis, the bacteria that causes that infection has access to the rest of the body via the bloodstream. I tell them that their mouth is not an island and that taking care of their smile means taking care of their overall health.
Making positive relationships with patients can increase compliance and get them excited about their treatment. I try to make appointments fun and upbeat while remaining professional. Something as simple as asking a teen how their sports game went or asking an adult about their hobbies helps them feel more at ease and turns a regular visit into an engaging and comfortable experience.
We orthodontists have the ability to significantly impact how patients view oral health. With these tips, I can encourage better brushing for my braces patients and make the orthodontic experience enjoyable while motivating them to maintain positive oral hygiene habits that they can carry throughout life.
Dr. Nicole Nalchajian holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley and dental and orthodontic degrees from the University of the Pacific. She is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists and is passionate about her role as an orthodontist. Through her practice in Fresno, CA, Nalchajian believes in promoting a fun, healthy environment for children and informing her patients about treatment and how to maintain proper oral health.
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