Kimberley Lloyd-Rees: Oral Health and Message Fatigue

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Kimberley Lloyd- Rees talks about the importance of education in improving oral health outcomes

Along with caries, periodontal disease is described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the “most important part of the global burden of oral diseases” [1]. But how many of your patients would be able to provide an on-the-spot definition for what periodontal disease is?

Improving patient understanding about things such periodontal disease, so they can identify and self-report symptoms for a swift intervention, is becoming a key priority for oral health professionals. With many practices still seeing fewer patients per day and waiting times becoming longer as a result, your role as an educator has never been more important.

People need to be empowered to take control of their dental health. Many are suffering from message fatigue because they are constantly being told what to do. Education is not about telling; it is about providing people with the tools they need while letting them know that they are the ones in control.

For example, better oral hygiene starts with effective daily cleaning, so look for a range that has options so different people can clean comfortably. TANDEX has brushes and interdental brushes available in different ISO and Passage Hole Diameters (PHD) sizes, identified by the unique colour of the brush handle. Every patient will be able to find their perfect fit, supporting compliance.

But why has the patient come to the practice? On one hand people are interested in elective treatments to improve function and/or aesthetics, evidenced by an increased demand for adult orthodontics. However, the incidence of certain serious oral diseases is on the rise. Cancers of the head and neck have “surged” – and there are concerns about the numbers and late detection leading to poor prognoses [2].

Before undertaking elective treatment, we must first ensure there is a solid foundation of oral health, and the patient’s willingness to adhere to a range of preventive behaviours. A suitable standard of oral hygiene will keep any treatment – from orthodontics, to root canal work – stable and beautifully maintained.

Education and engagement start with communication, and effective communication is as much about listening as it is about talking. Help them understand that you are not there to pass judgement. If they don’t clean interdentally, or still haven’t managed to quit cigarettes, listen to what they say, tell them what you can see, then offer solutions they can choose to accept, if they wish. It is their choice.

It might be something as simple as showing them how to use the latest interdental brushes or discussing strategies for smoking cessation. If they feel they can trust you not to pass judgement, they are more likely to be honest. You are not there to lecture, or to use words they can’t understand.

To return to the subject of periodontal disease. There is much still being discovered about this condition and its treatment. Some studies suggest susceptibility to periodontal disease may be partly due to genetics, something a patient cannot control, but which still underlines how important education is, along with effective prevention to mitigate the risks [3].

Patience is essential for a good teacher. If someone has abandoned their attempt to stop smoking, or hasn’t cleaned interdentally every day, talk about what could be done differently next time, so they should not be made to feel that they “failed”. Adapt your message to the person, a one-size-fits all approach is not the right one.

Effectively educated patients will understand that oral health appointments are about more than, “Do I need a filling?” They’re for learning about the multifactorial causes for oral disease, they’re for good conversations and talking honestly about what works, and what doesn’t.

Ultimately, they are about forging strong patient-practitioner relationship, to make oral care more accessible and engaging, leading to better outcomes.


Kimberley Lloyd- Rees is a clinical tutor in dental hygiene and therapy as well as working in practice. She writes on behalf of Tandex. For more information regarding the Tandex range of products, visit or go to the Facebook page 


1] Bulletin of the World Health Organization. The burden of oral disease: challenges to improving oral health in the 21st Century. Link: (accessed March 2021).

2] Surge in cancer cases after Covid caused dental care delays. The Times, 1 March 2021. Link: (accessed March 2021).

3] Carinci F, Palmieri A, Girardi A, Cura F, Lauritano D. Genetic Risk Assessment of Periodontal Disease during Dental Treatments. Ann Forensic Res Anal. 2015 ;2 (1):1011.