Are you asking your patients this critical question?

By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

September 21, 2016 -- I learned something very important the other day.

I had the opportunity earlier this year to attend a two-day continuing education course. The subject matter was enlightening, and the techniques I learned took me way outside of my box. All this was great. I love to be challenged.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

However, I learned one simple thing at the start of the seminar that was even more critical than all the material that was presented during the entire 12-hour program. I learned that I was not asking the most important question during my initial examination of my patients.

During my initial periodontal examination, I ask my patients questions about their medical and dental history and what is bothering their mouth. I review their medications and how they take care of their mouth. I explain what I see on their x-rays and how I will look in their mouth to determine what is going on. I describe how diet and lifestyle are critical components to their dental health and their overall health. I discuss things that they may have never heard from any other dentist or medical doctor in their life.

After I perform my comprehensive exam, I summarize what I saw and how I could help them to get better. But, there is one question that I have never asked, and I now know what it is.

The critical question is: "What other health concerns do you have that I haven't addressed yet?"

“The critical question is: 'What other health concerns do you have that I haven't addressed yet?'”

This open-ended question allows patients to open up to me -- to delve deeper into what may be bothering them beyond what I deal with as a periodontist. My job is not only to treat their periodontal disease but also to discover any other medical or emotional issues they may have.

It turns out that research has suggested that this is the most important question that patients need to be asked. Their answer could reveal what really would make them healthier and happier. Even if I were not the right medical person to address these issues, I would now be able to refer them to the correct healthcare professional to make them better.

Are you asking your patients "What other health concerns do you have that I haven't addressed yet?"

You can be sure that I will ask this question from now on.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it.

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.

Copyright © 2016

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