Motivational Interviewing May Improve Oral Hygiene Behavior

Dentistry Today


Dentists always recommend brushing twice a day and flossing every day, in addition to curbing alcohol and tobacco use, for maintaining a healthy smile. Yet this advice often goes unheeded. Now, the University at Buffalo (UB) has received a $438,000 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to develop the first online intervention based on motivational interviewing designed to improve these behaviors.

“Books, demonstrations, discussions—none of it is working. Dentists are always trying to motivate people to brush and floss properly, yet half of the US population has some form of gingivitis,” said Sebastian Ciancio, DDS, leader of the study and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor at the UB School of Dental Medicine.

“Creating an effective online program based on motivational interviewing will make it possible to achieve large-scale improvements in oral health at a relatively low cost,” said Kurt Dermen, PhD, co-leader of the study and senior research scientist in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Motivational interviewing is a collaborative, goal-oriented counseling style that promotes behavior change by helping patients resolve doubt and indecision. Rather than give direction, the counselor guides patients to identify their own reasons and plans for change. 

The researchers turned to this approach due to its effectiveness in treating alcohol and substance abuse. In a previous study, the researchers tested its ability to improve brushing and flossing habits in dental patients who suffered from alcohol abuse. The project’s success led to the development of an intervention training manual for dental professionals.

Dental practices have limited time for counseling patients, so the study will modify the training manual into an online intervention that can be easily delivered to patients. The researchers will interview 32 dentists and hygienists and 32 patients to guide its development. Various iterations of the online intervention will be tested with small sets of patients. 

The final version of the intervention will be tested with 24 UB Dental patients, the School of Dental Medicine teaching clinic that provides affordable care to thousands of western New Yorkers. Patients will report their perceptions of the program’s ability to engage and motivate changes in behavior. Further research will test its effectiveness and utility with other populations at risk for oral disease, such as patients diagnosed with HIV or diabetes. 

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