5 Questions to Help Your Patients

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist
May 7, 2018 [printfriendly]





My hygienist came to me last week totally flustered. She saw a patient who was not taking care of her mouth – nothing new. But this patient has been seen in our office for a while. Yet, she was not taking the steps to help herself – she was not self-motivating.



I’ll call this patient “Lacy”. Lacy has been coming to our office regularly for over two years for her 3-month hygiene appointments. My hygienist would clean her teeth and monitor her gum health. She would show Lacy what was going on in her mouth with a mirror and would review and demonstrate the necessary cleaning techniques that might improve the health of her mouth. I also had discussed the importance of gut health and how it could affect her mouth health and overall health.


Lacy has had an unhealthy mouth, and she still has an unhealthy mouth. Although my hygienist always reemphasizes for Lacy what she needs to do for her teeth and gums, Lacy still presents at each cleaning appointment with lots of gum disease and lots of unhealthy dental plaque.


Understandably, my hygienist was frustrated, and she asked me, “What should I do with Lacy? It appears that Lacy has no idea what “compliance” means.”


Just the Facts

Sometimes (probably most times), just facts are not enough to make someone react in a positive way. No person can motivate someone else. No person can make another become compliant. Telling a person to get motivated is not going to work. Motivation must develop from within that person and often emanates from an emotional response. A person must believe in the “Why” to make a change. A person must self-motivate to move forward.



The science of helping people to self-motivate is complex. Each situation must be dealt with individually. However, there are some basic guidelines that might suggest a dialogue with the patient to help her.


I suggested 5 questions for my hygienist to ask Lacy, who apparently was not taking care of her mouth and not taking care of her overall health as we believed she should. The questions are designed to help the patient take personal responsibility for her actions and the eventual outcomes from these actions. Of course, the response to each question would determine the way the next question would be asked.


  1. “Lacy, are you interested in making your mouth healthier?”
  2. “What are your three main reasons to make this change?”
  3. “What do you think could happen if you don’t make this change?”
  4. “If you want to make a change, what do you think you need to do to be successful?”
  5. “What steps do you want to take for us to help you make that change?”


These questions emphasize “you”. They might help Lacy understand her “why”. They also could strike an emotional core within Lacy to spark her into action. Lacy may respond in a proactive way to make the change and to ask us how we can help her to make this happen.


Moving Forward

My hygienist already scheduled Lacy with a follow-up appointment in one month. At that appointment, I suggested that my hygienist ask these questions and listen to Lacy’s answers. Our goal is for Lacy to become emotionally involved with, and responsible for, her outcome. If Lacy begins to own her responses as well as the course of her health, then Lacy might ask us for the specific steps our office can take to help Lacy make a difference for herself going forward.



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