«I see myself as a coach»

Kriens, November 2013 – The iTOP training programme gives dental hygiene specialists comprehensive skills in individually trained oral prophylaxis. Dental hygienist Judith Weiss, 47, from Weggis, canton Lucerne, has just successfully completed the final seminar block – “with a huge rucksack of motivation”.

«I see myself as a coach»

Judith Weiss, qualified dental hygienist: “iTOP works. Knowing this is motivation and incentive enough for me. My patients are getting better and better at brushing their teeth, that’s additional motivation.”

Ms Weiss, you’ve just returned from Prague where you learned how to clean teeth at an iTOP seminar along with other dental professionals from all over Europe. Excuse me for asking – but can’t dental hygienists do that already?
Judith Weiss: Of course they can clean teeth. But the question is: can they do it gently yet effectively? I asked myself this very question when I attended an iTOP seminar for the first time in 2011. Why should I learn something that I can already do? This made me keen to find out more.

Is cleaning teeth an art form then?
Yes and no. Let’s take painting as an art form. A three-year-old can paint a picture and so can an art student. The difference lies in the sensitivity, in practising the small details, in accuracy and precision. It’s no different with teeth cleaning.

How is an iTOP seminar run? How should we envisage an event like this?
Jiri Sedelmayer († 2019) taught us about “Success and failure in oral hygiene and their causes” on the five mornings. Jiri Sedelmayer († 2019) has an incredible amount of experience: for years, he was in charge of training dentists in prophylaxis at the University of Hamburg. The afternoons were devoted to practical learning, practising and training with the individual tools, how it might be perfect.

Might be?
Yes because people always go back to the old way of cleaning that they have learned over the years since childhood – too much pressure, too often, in the wrong place ... At the iTOP seminar we practised a lot on each other - “touch to teach” as it is called.

What does that mean?
In the touch-to-teach method, my partner holds my toothbrush. In this way, I get to know better, get a more accurate idea of where and how the toothbrush is cleaning and also discover those places that are frequently neglected when brushing. Closing your eyes is recommended so that you automatically feel it better and brushing becomes more meaningful. No matter whether you’re a course participant or an instructor – you also learn to repeatedly recalibrate yourself in your brushing technique so that you don’t use excessive pressure. And something else: closing your eyes when brushing is particularly helpful with the solo technique where, everyone knows, each tooth is cleaned individually with a special brush.

You’ve been in this profession for a long time. What did you learn at this seminar?
I’ve learned that, with the correct, careful technique and exact training, good plaque and biofilm management can be achieved. I also learned how to pass on this knowledge and ability as an instructor.

That all sounds highly technical ...
I’ve learned at iTOP how to clean my teeth gently in a controlled manner and with so little pressure that it feels like “the beating of a butterfly’s wings”.

How did the other seminar participants react to “instructions” like these?
Dental professionals from more than ten countries came to Prague with one goal – to clean teeth better and to learn how to pass on this style of oral hygiene. We were all enthusiastic since we all wanted to learn something and that was precisely why we attended the seminar. Lifelong learning – it also applies to brushing your teeth. And there’s nothing more motivating than being among people who are all striving for the same thing. The motivation rucksack I brought home with me is huge.

How do you maintain this level of motivation?
My motivation is based on my iTOP colleagues and the knowledge that it works. And because it works, I can keep up my enthusiasm.

iTOP stands for individually-trained oral prophylaxis. How important is the “training” aspect?
Train, correct, improve – this is how you learn to master the tools. At iTOP seminars, touch to teach – practising on each other – is the method mainly used.

How important is the “individual” aspect?
Every oral cavity and every tooth is individual and requires individual training and individual oral hygiene.

And “prophylaxis”, where does that start?
With the very first tooth! From this point on, teeth are colonised by bacteria. My job as a dental professional is to prevent dental and periodontal disease by means of iTOP.

But this demands a new role concept: according to this, a dental hygienist can do more than just detect caries and measure pocket depths if she sees herself as a coach.
Absolutely! I see myself as a coach who turns her clients into oral hygiene professionals. By means of individual, client-oriented prophylaxis, I would like to aim for lifelong maintenance of their dental and periodontal health.

How do your clients react to this new role?
My experience as a trainer has been amazingly good and positive. Fewer and fewer clients view me as the classic cleaning assistant. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I never give up – in line with the motto “constant dripping wears away the stone” – and I’m genuinely pleased to recount my own experiences and difficulties with my own oral hygiene. For example, if an unmotivated client visits me once or twice a year, I ask them: who does the cleaning on the other 363 or 364 days?

Your reports on your experience motivate others. But how do you motivate yourself?
iTOP works. Knowing this is motivation and incentive enough for me. The better I can master the technique myself, the better I can pass on my skills. The exchange of experience among dental professionals, which is made possible by an iTOP seminar – this feeling of being part of a family – is incredibly motivating.

Thinking about your clients: what do they need most of all?
Knowledge, information and explanations on how they themselves can contribute to dental and periodontal health. A lot of my clients are surprised when I show them the fine interdental brushes, for example. They tell me that nobody has ever explained it to them, they still wouldn’t know about them. Others believe that a specific toothpaste with granules or a mouthwash will even clean the spaces between the teeth because that is what the commercial promised.

In all honesty: dental hygienists are pleased if their patients even brush their teeth at all and occasionally use dental floss.
That may apply to some. Now it’s up to me to change that. My goal is to teach clients targeted and mechanical plaque control management. To demonstrate to them why dental floss often causes injury while interdental brushes clean gently between the teeth. It’s up to me to explain what bleeding gums mean: “To beat your enemy, you must know your enemy”, as Napoleon once said. This also applies to oral health.

When are you successful as a dental hygienist?
When I see clients again who are more satisfied and healthier, who are pleased about their oral hygiene or, as recently happened, I noticed a client on a train who was practising the solo technique intensively.

On a train?
Yes, it may sound odd. But, in contrast to regular teeth brushing, the solo technique does not inconvenience fellow travellers at all.

iTOP works with CURAPROX oral hygiene products, since these meet the high demands of the instructors. What’s your impression?
It’s not just about the instructors’ requirements but the needs of all users, also the clients. Fine, densely bristled toothbrushes and interdental brushes with suitably long bristles are indispensable for gentle, effective oral hygiene in line with the iTOP philosophy.

How would you get your colleagues interested in attending an iTOP series of seminars?
I’m an iTOP fan by conviction since I’ve seen that it works. You have to experience and feel this method for yourself to know that there’s nothing better than this. Just as important is the fact that, with iTOP, there is no trauma for teeth or periodontium.

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