Psychological Techniques Improve Oral Hygiene

Dentistry Today


The use of psychological techniques to communicate the risk of developing periodontal disease to patients improved dental hygiene over a three-month period during a study conducted by the King’s College London Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences. These techniques also were associated with reduced scores for gum inflammation.

The researchers tested a group of 97 adults with moderate periodontal disease who were registered patients at a London general dental practice. The patients received treatment as usual, an individualized report on their periodontal disease risk, or an individualized report plus a program of goal-setting, planning, and self-monitoring based on psychological theory. 

Over 12 weeks, the two groups with whom risk was communicated saw significant reductions in dental plaque, but the “treatment as usual” group did not. Also, the percentage of areas that bled on examination decreased in all groups, but the effect was more pronounced in the groups that received the psychological intervention. And, the frequency of interdental cleaning improved only in the intervention groups.

“Our study shows that by adopting a simple psychological intervention, aided by the use of an online risk assessment tool, we can significantly improve measurable clinical outcomes and reduce initial signs of gum disease in patients seen routinely in general dental practice,” said lead author Koula Asimakopoulou, PhD, reader in health psychology at King’s College London.

“Shaping how health information is presented to our patients appears to influence their subsequent behavior,” said Matthew Nolan, BDS, MSc, the dental practitioner who delivered the intervention and a clinical lecturer at King’s College London.

“Patients are naturally concerned about their risk of periodontal disease. We have found that coupling their concern with a structured discussion of coping strategies and simple behavior change techniques may be a useful driving force in improving health outcomes with a routine dental consultation,” said Nolan.

“This paper is interesting as it builds on research previously carried out at King’s to show how useful a patient-focused healthcare intervention can be in the real-life primary care setting,” said Mark Ide, BDS, MSc, PhD, president of the British Society for Periodontology and reader in periodontology at King’s College London.   

“At a time when the best way to improve the periodontal health of the majority of people is being considered, this paper demonstrates how interdisciplinary teams of psychologists and dentists working together can deliver improvements in patients’ oral health and periodontal status,” said Ide.

The study, “The Effect of Risk Communication on Periodontal Treatment Outcomes; A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published by the Journal of Periodontology.

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