Carrot or stick?

Us dentists spend a lot of time trying to motivate people to make changes to their lifestyle and habits to improve their health. Your diet, oral hygiene, smoking habits, alcohol intake, weight, stress levels and exercise habits can all have a huge impact on the health of your mouth. We also know that a healthy mouth can increase your chances of having a healthy body.

For these reasons we try to move away from the ‘drill and fill’ mentality and focus on preventative health but what is the best way to get through to people?

At a recent lecture by psychologist Helena Boschi I learnt that we hate losing more than we love winning which is why focusing on what we will lose if we do not make changes is more effective that focusing on what we will gain if we do make the changes (this is rather like the fear-based advertising on cigarette packages). We certainly use this technique to great effect when showing children gory photos of disgusting, dirty teeth with horrible black holes in them. I would call this the ‘stick’ method.

I think of myself as a very positive person though and I really hate delivering bad news. For this reason I think a bit of ‘carrot’ is a great way to deliver a message. My favourite example is from the Periodontologist Phil Ower who, when encouraging his patients to reduce their risk factors for gum disease gives the following advice:

“Go home, put your feet up with one small glass of wine and relax. Have some grilled mackerel and sautéed vegetables for dinner followed by a square of high quality dark chocolate. After dinner, head upstairs for your oral hygiene session remembering to use all of your interdental brushes. After this, it’s time for your exercise which can be whatever you want it to be”

(last sentence delivered with a wink, of course!).
Well said Phil.