As dental hygienists, many of us have had countless conversations with patients about in-office fluoride treatment recommendations. Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Hygienist: Overall, your teeth look good, but I do see some areas of concern that a fluoride treatment could help protect.
Patient: Fluoride, isn’t that dangerous?
Hygienist: Fluoride is safe for your teeth and will help prevent future tooth decay. However, your insurance will not cover treatment.
Patient: No, thank you. I don’t want to pay for anything extra.
While patients have no trouble seeing the value in most preventive and restorative services, such as teeth cleanings and fillings, their view on fluoride is often quite different. Although it's proven that fluoride can prevent new decay, many factors and outside information can negatively influence a patient’s perception on fluoride. This can cause a decreased chance of fluoride acceptance before the patient even walks through the door for their dental appointment.
Why patients are hesitant It’s our responsibility to relay the correct information to patients about the benefits of fluoride, despite what they may have read online or heard through the grapevine. So, the challenge becomes: how do you reverse preconceived thoughts and educate patients while they’re in the dental chair?
Cost is one of the primary factors that affect fluoride varnish acceptance. How do you convince a price-conscious patient to pay out-of-pocket for treatment if they don’t believe it’s necessary?
What can you do as a hygienist? Explain how this small investment may save time and money by potentially preventing future restorative treatment, which can be significantly more expensive than fluoride application. Explain how it can help fight against decay by strengthening their tooth surfaces. If the patient has existing restorations, let them know it can protect the fillings and crowns they have previously invested in.
Keep in mind that throughout the duration of the appointment, there may be an opportunity to bring up the subject casually first. For example, if the patient has generalized recession and is sensitive around the gum line during prophylaxis, that’s an opportunity to mention how fluoride could be helpful in preventing future sensitivity and protecting those exposed root surfaces.
Focus on informing and answering questions While you may explain how every adult needs fluoride varnish, it’s more important to tell the patient why it’s a good choice for them, in particular, based on what you’ve seen during their visit. Remember, don’t take resistance personally. They may have seen negative things online about fluoride or be on a strict budget. They may have it set in their mind that their teeth are too bad to reap the benefits of fluoride, or that there must be a reason why insurance refuses coverage.
Your job is to inform, answer questions and put an end to any uncertainty and fears. Be open to hearing their concerns. Anticipate their responses and be prepared to have an open discussion about fluoride.
Know your fluoride varnish It’s also important to be knowledgeable on the type and brand of fluoride that you’re offering to your patients. Some patients may decline fluoride because of the inconvenience of not being able to eat or drink afterwards. While this may be true for some fluoride rinses, foams and gels, there’s typically no wait time for eating and drinking with fluoride varnish. Young’s D-Lish varnish even allows for patients to be able to consume hot foods and liquids right away.
Be the voice of reason Focus on the benefits that fluoride provides to patients, such as less sensitivity when eating or drinking cold foods, and its preventive nature that offers lasting protection against decay in between appointments. You can even offer to apply fluoride to a single area and review changes at their next visit.
Usually calm, sensible answers, and pointing out clear benefits will be enough to convince patients that you have their best interest at heart when you recommend a fluoride varnish treatment.
Quick recap Here are some go-to explainers you can use if your patient is hesitant about fluoride varnish:
This this small investment may save time and money by potentially preventing future restorative treatment, which can be significantly more expensive than fluoride application.
Fluoride varnish can help fight against decay by strengthening tooth surfaces.
If the patient has existing restorations, let them know it can protect the fillings and crowns they’ve previously invested in.
If the patient has generalized recession and is sensitive around the gum line, mention how fluoride could be helpful in preventing future sensitivity and protecting those exposed root surfaces.
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