You see an important colleague on the horizon and you’d like to introduce yourself and make a good impression. Before approaching, you do the breath check. You know the thing where you cup your hand over your mouth and exhale in order to check your breath. None of us are exempt from the fear of having bad breath. But halitosis can be more than a social embarrassment.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, as many as 60 million Americans reported ongoing issues with halitosis. Enter Covid and mask mandates. Dentists are hearing a new chief complaint from their patients: Mask Mouth. Patients report mask-wearing has made them distinctly aware of their own bad breath. Halitosis is not a new issue, but since the onset of Covid, patients are more aware of it than ever. In fact, studies report an increase to more than 80 million chronic sufferers of halitosis. The good news is we can leverage this newfound awareness to elevate our patient’s understanding about oral health, and the importance of good dental hygiene.
Energy Goes Were Attention Flows
Awareness is everything. It is the catalyst for change. While patients are mostly only concerned about how bad breath affects their lifestyle, they are more inclined to listen and implement our recommendations.
As professionals, we must seize every opportunity we can to create a change and shift toward a healthy oral environment. Now is the time to brush up on your arsenal of educational weaponry, to raise awareness about effective plaque removal, nutrition, water consumption, pH levels, and other underlying health concerns that may contribute to halitosis. By doing so, you may be creating long-term, sustainable change in your patients.
Get Back To The Basics
How effective is their tooth brushing? Electric toothbrushes, water flossers, mouth rinses, dentifrices, and brushing techniques; never underestimate the value of the basics. Brushing and flossing are the foundation for good dental health. Choose your recommendations wisely, suggesting only those components that best fit your patient’s needs. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your patient will most likely not respond to another litany of recommendations. Start at the foundation and build from there.
Perhaps a disclosing agent or plaque identifying toothpaste, along with an electric toothbrush is where you should start. Set a goal to evaluate your patient’s progress at the next appointment. Chances are when they return, they’ll be motivated to move forward with another recommendation.
Mouth Breathing & Sleep Medicine
Now more than ever, we have our patient’s attention in terms of respiratory relevance. A simple dialog about mouth breathing may open the door for a life-saving conversation about sinus problems, sleep disordered breathing, Xereostomia, and snoring.
If you’ve ever pondered incorporating sleep medicine into your practice, now is the time. Patients are attentive and listening. Proper sleep is critical in the prevention against disease and illness. Dentists are in the unique and trusted position to assess patients for deficiencies.
Thorough evaluation of medical, dental, and sleep history can reveal multiple risk factors. Several co-morbidities are linked to poor quality sleep and we have the power to save lives.
While xerostomia in and of itself is not specifically a disease, it may be a side effect of more serious systemic issues. Mask mouth has given us an open door to discuss mitigating caries risk, and the importance of saliva in neutralizing the acidic byproducts of harmful bacteria. It also gives us the opportunity to promote the oral-enhancing benefits of xylitol.
Issues related to mask mouth can be used to promote more frequent recalls for those who need it. The patient who has refused 3 to 4 month recare appointments in the past may be more inclined to act now that there is a physical manifestation that raises their concern. Patient’s often do not heed our advice, because they can’t see or feel periodontal disease and underlying issues. Halitosis, from the patient’s perspective, is a lifestyle concern. In terms of education and patient compliance, this may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
Successful clinical outcomes can only occur when patients change their behavior. They must partner with us in improving their oral health. Their buy-in is the critical component that triggers change in their health-related behaviors. Lasting change is more likely when you welcome your patients to actively participate in their care.
Lifestyle change is difficult to make and even more difficult to sustain. Implementing one change effort can be successful for most patients. Change one thing. That’s it. One easily implemented change could start your patients on a journey to improved health.
Do they feel an electric toothbrush is too pricey and they cannot justify the expense? Work with what they are willing to work with. Recommend the Bass tooth brushing technique, and help them with proper manual toothbrush placement. Do they admit they’re never going to floss? Recommend a water flosser.
Change takes time, it is rarely instantaneous. Who would have ever thought mask-wearing would present us with opportunities to place our patients on the road to change? Sometimes the greatest changes are brought about by the smallest adjustments.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.