Communicating with patients about smoking

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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Doctors and dentists are in an advantageous position to counsel patients about tobacco use and cessation. Developing relationships that allow for open and honest communication about tobacco use is key in helping patients take that critical step in deciding to quit.

cigarettesDr. Kevin Kelly, a family physician with PinnacleHealth Medical Group, says “My strategy is just total persistence.” He communicates with his patients about smoking at every visit and wants to make sure they know that the topic is always open for discussion no matter why they’re there.   Scroll down to watch the video.

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in our country and it is something we can change. “About fifty percent of smokers have made an attempt to quit in any given year, so I stay diligent in trying to help them achieve that goal,” Dr. Kelly says. “I always say we have to plant a lot of seeds and hope for some of them to germinate.  Because, I want that one opportunity when they are ready that they will reach out to me and we can move them along on that path of success.”

nicotine-gum-optionsDr. Kelly then works with the patient to identify what is triggering the behavior and will point them towards a cessation method that will work best for them, whether it is counseling, medication, or a community support group. “I’m not there to make them feel guilty. I am there to make sure they have the support,” he says.

“Sometimes I go through spells of talking to a lot of people and don’t see much happening. That’s the groundwork you have to lay out there." Dr. Kelly says.   "Then you get those ones who suddenly come back and surprise you with a smile saying ‘I quit smoking three months ago after speaking with you.’ Those are the kinds of wins I’m going for and it is so so rewarding. It makes me happy and it is why I come to work every day.”

dentist-smokingLike doctors, dentists are also in a good position to speak with patients about the dangers of tobacco and options for quitting. Dr. Wes Davis, a general dentist in private practice in Hershey, PA, says that because he sees his patients twice a year, he develops relationships that break down the barriers about conversing about the topic.

Dr. Davis says, “Generally we will remind patients at the end of every visit that they would be healthier if they ceased using tobacco.” And if the patient is receptive, he’ll talk about cessation options like gum, nicotine patches, counseling or a local cessation program.  “Generally they’ll listen and like to hear from their healthcare provider,” he says, adding “We are there to support them and inform them of deleterious effects of their habit.”

He says that tobacco-users generally have poorer oral health compared to non-tobacco users.  But, once a person quits the damages can actually reverse themselves.  He has found that showing pictures of stained teeth or soft lesions, that could be cancerous lesions, are effective methods of getting a person to decide to quit. 

“It is a highly addictive substance and is not easy for these patients to give this up. So, it is a cause for celebration and is remarkable how much oral health improves once stop smoking.”

Related stories:
Tackling the physical, mental and social aspects of tobacco addiction
Butt out for good

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