Making in-office products an opportunity, not a crisis

2014 02 20 11 42 42 497 Ibbetson Carrie 200

We as dental professionals sometimes have a difficult time remembering what it was like to view the mouth as an undiscovered territory. Remember the days when you looked at your now-familiar tools with excitement and nervousness: "That 11/12 scaler looks so cool, but just what the heck does it do?"

Our patients have the same feeling about the products and tools they encounter. But along with the excitement and intrigue, they need more than just encouragement to use these products properly. After all, making a change in a routine can be difficult, and unless patients know why change is necessary, they won't invest in the process.

Carrie Ibbetson, RDH.Carrie Ibbetson, RDH.
Carrie Ibbetson, RDH.

One of the best opportunities for your patients to improve their oral health is to receive useful information at the dental office about home care products. As patients are looking to dental professionals for accurate and relevant information, doesn't it makes sense for staff to have a better understanding of how to most effectively use the products the practice offers?

So when it comes to these products, who is the go-to person in your office for knowledge and learning about the recommended patient usage? In offices I've worked in, for the most part, it is often a distributor's sales representative. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we got to sit with the manufacturer's rep for a detailed explanation of the gadget's features and functions.

If our goal is to actually help our patients get and stay healthy, we have to be clear about what they use at home and how they use it. A key to helping our patients with their home care is really understanding the products and tools that we recommend, how they are best used, and how they are adapted to patient use.

But we can't do this alone. Now is the time for manufacturers to understand that we need help in the product how-to department, not in the product sales department. We as professionals need to understand that there have been amazing advances in oral healthcare products in the last few years, and that many products, when used correctly, offer results even our best scaler would be jealous of. But to help patients improve their oral health and break away from their established patterns, they need knowledge about these new products from their dental office. That knowledge seems like it would best come from someone who has done battle in the trenches, someone with firsthand knowledge of the products who can offer practical, real-life suggestions to the clinicians and staff who are recommending these products.

“People need more than just encouragement to use these products properly.”

Doesn't it seem logical to have someone offering you clinical insight on what works and helping to troubleshoot issues with patient usage instead of someone who is trained in sales?

Before you see your next patient, think back to those years when you had no idea about the wonderful mystery of your mouth. Think back before you knew how to scale the distal aspect of the mesial bifurcated root on the buccal of No. 15, and remember that most of our patients have never had professional help adopting the tools that we recommend or that they became aware of through media attention and marketing.

The next time you have patients in the chair, ask them if they are interested in knowing how they can be more effective with their home care products. Ask them if they are interested in knowing what products are most helpful at tackling the issues they are dealing with and why. Help them understand that not all products are made equally. This is the only way that we are going to be able to tackle the issue of incorrect usage with home care.

If you as a professional are unsure how to use a home care tool, there is little hope for the patient in the chair that you are serving. Ask your sales or manufacturer rep to help you understand how to adapt it for patient use. And if they can't help you, call the manufacturer and ask for a demo model so that you can figure it out on your own. Or if push comes to shove, you can find a private oral health coach to come in and teach you and your team what products to recommend in your office -- and how to help patients use them correctly!

Carrie Ibbetson is a registered dental hygienist and oral health coach in Southern California. She founded and runs the sites and, and has been featured on and For more information about Ms. Ibbetson and Natural Gumption, please visit her sites.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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