Practice Management

Dental Practice at a Cross-Roads in 2020


Ron Weintraub


January 20, 2021

January 20, 2021

We alerted you of the significant changes to our previous “normal protocols” in serving the public and protecting our clinical and administrative staff during Covid-19. And our patients listened! But did we miss the importance of sharing with them that, in addition to isolation and protection, the need for dental care is paramount to their overall health?
Some re-care patients have placed dentistry lower on their priority scale perhaps out of fear for their safety or the lack of ongoing dental benefits from their workplace. Instead of routine dental care, they may attend our offices only if they think it is necessary and sufficiently affects their well-being. Neglecting oral health could have negative health results for the population and serious consequences for a dental practice.

Relationship of Oral Care to Health Status
We must communicate more effectively to our patients the positive effect oral health has on our general health status. This is part of our responsibility as trusted dental professionals. Although this message used to be routinely delegated to our hygienist but ignored by other clinicians, it helped to prevent periodontal disease through re-care appointments with debridement and scaling. Good oral health and clinical well-being helps bolster our immune system’s resistance to the current virus and possibly, future pandemics.

Communicating the Message
Educating patients about the biological aspects required to remain as healthy as possible cannot be ignored. This part of the practice may not have been prioritized sufficiently as we focused on the perceived need to market aesthetics in order to remain competitive with the abundance of practitioners all vying for new patients.
It is, therefore, necessary for us to reassure patients that all the required disinfection processes, distancing, renovations, and PPE issues have been addressed. Unfortunately, as the second wave of pandemic strikes, populations are justifiably being encouraged to stay home as much as possible. Even though dentists can’t deny that the advice is sound, they can demonstrate their concerns for patients’ overall health and well-being by urging improved homecare in the interest of minimizing the risk of oral breakdown requiring emergency treatment.

Educating patients about the biological aspects required to remain as healthy as possible cannot be ignored.

Promoting Positive Oral Health Behaviours
Forced confinement often coincides with a diet rich in mood-boosting sugar. However, this can contribute to problems including dental breakdown. Healthcare professionals need to inform patients of the real risk of foregoing the necessary preventive and reparative active treatment. Enhanced understanding of the complexity and importance of dental care for general health promotes informed decisions and encourages patients to continue with dental maintenance.
To motivate our patients to increase their homecare oral regimes, we need to stress the need for routine oral healthcare. People at home may have more time available for preventive oral health procedures, and we should encourage them by stressing the benefits.
Creating awareness of the value of the re-care appointment to promote oral health that enhances general health is another way to educate our patients who entrust their confidence and care in us. By pointing out the newly controlled environment and safety protections, patients feel more confident when they return to the office. Some offices encourage patients to book every 6 to 9 months in order to “have their teeth cleaned”. This messaging may mislead patients to think that these appointments are of relatively little importance.

Ongoing Oral Healthcare Benefits
Yet another way to educate patients is to outline that a detailed re-care examination can help promote healthy living by screening for diseases of the oral cavity including serious pathologies such as pre-carcinomas and other lesions which, if discovered in time, can avoid serious treatment. Furthermore, it is important to show the relationship between good oral health and periodontal disease as well as other inflammatory diseases and the body’s hyperactive immune response. There is a direct relationship between periodontal disease and heart disease, cancer, and other inflammatory conditions which, if left untreated, may lead to negative health outcomes.
When practitioners internalize that our service contributes to general health, we will be able to inform patients of the benefits of maintaining ongoing and preventive oral care. As the value of oral healthcare and the necessity of dental treatment becomes more generally accepted by the public, it will lead to an enhanced understanding of the relationship between routine oral health care and general well-being. With this knowledge, appropriate dental care at dental offices will become a priority for patients.
Communicating the relevance of dental health allows the public to make an intelligent decision whether to go, forgo, or postpone their normal dental care. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t lose sight of the importance of what we do daily. Such neglect to inform patients of the value we provide and its link to general medical well-being is a disservice to the patients we serve.