Training hygienists to make the right connections

Learning new skills has always been a good way to enhance one’s position and therefore one’s career prospects. However lack of access to skilled training, time and money are often cited as obstacles to personal development, so Philips Oral Healthcare has co-opted some of the Country’s leading experts to develop a free training programme which is already helping hygienists – and their colleagues – communicate more effectively and change their behaviours and those of their patients.

Our behaviour is determined by the relationship between what we believe and how we feel. If we want to change behaviour it is necessary to change the underlying beliefs and feelings related to that behaviour. There area number of factors which influence whether we achieve changes in oral health behaviour, of which the level of motivation or intention to change that behaviour is key. Other significant factors that influence behavioural change include the beliefs underlying the behaviour; the value of it; the perceived costs and benefits of changing; the barriers to changing; beliefs about our ability to perform the behaviour change; and not least the support and reinforcement of others.

It has always been assumed that if people were informed about the risks associated with unhealthy behaviour this would be sufficient for them to change to a healthier pattern. The large levels of investment in health education for relatively little return proved this is not the case. People’s beliefs are not based simply on what they are told to believe. More recent models of health promotion are a good deal more sophisticated and take account of beliefs about health and illness and how those beliefs relate to behaviour and a significant proportion of health activity is now focused on changing risk behaviours for, most notably, heart disease, stroke or diabetes.

Hygienists can effect behavioral change

In the oral health field, there is a growing awareness that behavioural change and patient compliance are key determinators for the uptake of treatments and ultimately in successful preventative programmes. However, many hygienists find it a challenge to communicate effectively and positively influence compliance, listing time pressures and lack of training and skills to deal with these issues. However, research has shown that hygienists can be an impressive source of influence and that they can sway patients to take ownership of their own oral healthcare. There is therefore an increased importance for hygienists to build, maintain and leverage long-term relationships with patients rather than aping dentists who may take a more prescriptive approach, which has been shown to have a negative impact on effecting behavioural change.

Philips Oral Healthcare has pioneered Sonicare Connect. A major patient behavioural initiative to help the dental team including hygienists, communicate more effectively with their patients. The programme was developed by some of the world’s acknowledged specialists in the field of behaviour modification, including Professors Chris Butler and Steve Rollnick from the University of Cardiff, working in collaboration with dental experts from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute Periodontology Unit in London.

Two suppositions drove the development of Sonicare Connect: firstly, techniques for behavioural change can be learned by every member of the dental team, in fact all should play an active role with patients to understand their feelings, fears, experiences and expectations. This can be achieved by learning to listen actively to patients, and hygienists are in an ideal position to interact with both patient and practitioner. These are also skills, which can be defined, demonstrated and practiced, and learning can be enhanced using CD material, which stimulates reflection about how to convey information to the patient. Secondly, learning about this topic can be reinforced if examples chosen to illustrate the learning point are close to the everyday context of the dental team.

Helping the patient to communicate

Sonicare Connect is also aimed at helping the patient in the management of their own oral care, to enhance their experience so that they communicate more effectively with their dental professional and comply more with their treatment. In turn this helps the dental professional to work more effectively with their patients; develop more positive communications, improve concordance and achieve better treatment outcomes. Improved dialogue is a two way process and those dental professionals using the programme in their practices have been very positive about the outcomes they have achieved.

The new initiative features dual Patient and Practitioner Tools which work together by providing filmed scenario aimed at prompting a more informed response from both parties. Patients are asked to watch a short programme on a personal DVD player while they wait for their appointment. During the programme they are prompted to fill in their responses to a series of questions, which they complete on a wipe free board and take into the consulting room. The practitioner in turn, uses the responses during the consultation, facilitating a more open dialogue and providing the patient with a level of information or treatment they know the patient is ready to accept.

A hygienist who took part in the piloting of Sonicare Connect commented: ‘The programme helped our patients to focus. In fact the whole thing made them sit back and think ‘oh I’m having a healthcare treatment here’. I’ve used the programme with all kinds of different people and I believe it helps them realise that ‘they don’t just look at my teeth here, they ask me how I feel about this whole thing’, almost opening up the patient in a way ‘hey we realise there is more to you than just your teeth’.

Another participating hygienist underlined the programme helped the dialogue not only between hygienist and patient but with different dental nurses ‘As a hygienist at three very different practices I’ve found that it has made quite a difference having the dental nurses to engage the patients with the DVD.’

The reason Philips Oral Healthcare created the Sonicare Connect programme was to show its considerable commitment to improving professional development and to help members of the dental team –including hygienists – and their patients to communicate more effectively, increase their propensity to consider more sophisticated aids to compliance – much in the same way as its pioneering sonic toothbrush does. To that end every participating practice receives free training on Sonicare Connect in their area, a free training programme on DVD (or a lower spec paper version if the practice prefers) and all the patient elements of the programme from Philips Oral Healthcare.

If you would like to participate in the programme please telephone 0800 0567 222. More information is available on

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