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Editor's Note: In July 2009, the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA), a nonprofit trade association representing leading dental manufacturers, distributors, and laboratories, unveiled its “Oral Healthcare Can't Wait™” awareness campaign. The objective of the campaign is to warn the public of the risks of postponing regular dental checkups and recommended treatment. The OHCW campaign has the support of many dental community organizations and company members of the dental trade.
Dr. Blaes: Why did the Dental Trade Alliance develop this campaign?
Gary Price: The current economic climate is causing many people to either postpone the treatment plans recommended by their dentists, or to put off dental visits altogether. Unfortunately, there are long–term health risks associated with postponing oral care. While this is obvious to all the members of the dental team, the public doesn't see the urgency.
In spring 2009, the DTA joined Oral Health America in a survey of Americans to get their views on a wide range of oral health care issues. A significant number of adults report having an unmet dental need. Economic uncertainty seems to play some role in a significant number of instances where individuals are not actively seeking treatment for dental health conditions.
One out of every six people reported not going to the dentist because of uncertainty about their job and/or the economy. This is even more apparent among those with lower annual incomes; almost one–third of those with low incomes are delaying a visit to the dentist even though their needs are great.
We believe this campaign can make a difference and convince the public that ‘oral healthcare can't wait.'
Dr. Blaes: How are you getting your message out?
Gary Price: We wish we could fund a major advertising awareness campaign to focus the public's attention on oral health, but national advertising campaigns cost dozens of thousands of dollars and we don't have those resources. Therefore, we are relying on our partners in oral healthcare to help carry the message. The Oral Healthcare Can't Wait campaign will encourage all members of the dental team to communicate positive, compelling messages to their patients about the importance of seeking and accepting recommended oral care treatment.
We have established partnerships with and received support from many dental professional associations that have agreed to support this important message. The American Dental Association, the National Dental Association, the Hispanic Dental Association, the American Dental Hygienists Association, the American Dental Assistants Association, and Oral Health America. Many have included information about the campaign in their newsletters and publications. Some have provided links on their Web sites to the website that was developed for the campaign.
Almost all the dental publications in the community have agreed to run our ads for free to help get the word out to dentists across the country. The ads have run in eight publications for a total of over 20 placements. Of course, DE and PennWell® have been very supportive of this part of the public awareness effort.
Dr. Blaes: Are there resources for dental offices and organizations to use to get the message to the public?
Gary Price: We have developed an extensive array of resources for dentists and others to use. We developed two websites, one for professionals and one for the public. The addresses are www.oralhealthcarecantwait.com and www.visityourdentistnow.com. The public website contains general patient information and a variety of website links for more information or to find a dentist. The professional website contains many resources for the practice to use to enhance their communication with patients.
DTA was very lucky in the early development of the campaign to find a partner in the Lanmark Group, the dental industry's largest advertising, marketing, and public relations agency. The Lanmark Group developed ads and marketing materials for the campaign, helped us with strategy and execution and they agreed to do all this work for the campaign on a pro bono basis.
The resource section of www.oral healthcarecantwait.com contains an extensive practice–level communications tool kit which includes the following components:
- Letter templates to send to patients outlining the importance of continuing their care.
- Press release templates to send to local media outlining benefits of continuing oral health care and the risks of postponing treatment.
- Public service announcement templates for practices to distribute to their local radio stations.
- Patient education materials, such as brochures, posters, recall cards, etc. that can be taken to Kinko's, Staples, etc. for printing.
We are using social media as well. We have established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Dr. Blaes: Is the Oral Healthcare Can't Wait Campaign just a way for dentists to make money during tough times?
Gary Price: Absolutely not. The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body and its overall health. If more people realized this, they would prioritize their discretionary spending accordingly. Choosing between undergoing periodontal disease treatment and buying a new cell phone would become a no–brainer. Dental professionals are primarily focused on prevention when their patients allow them to do so. However, many wait until emergency conditions such as pain prevail. By this time, the course of treatment is more invasive and costly.
Maintaining optimum oral health is important to everyone, despite the state of the economy. Now is the time for the entire oral health care community to communicate this message to dental professionals and the public.
Dr. Blaes: Do you have any final comments for our readers?
Gary Price: Oral Healthcare Can't Wait is a very important national initiative with the ultimate goal of sustaining and improving oral health in America. I'm very grateful for the level of commitment we've received thus far from the entire dental industry, including manufacturers, trade publications, distributors, dental laboratories, and from Main Street dentists and their practice colleagues. Although we face economic challenges on a national basis, the majority of Americans still have the ability to make continued and comprehensive oral care an integrated part of their lives. If we work together, we can make a difference.
Gary Price is chief executive officer of the Dental Trade Alliance. He is a board member for the National Museum of Dentistry, the ADA Foundation's “Our Legacy — Our Future,” the ADA's Give Kids a Smile program, and the corporate roundtable of the National Dental Association. He serves as a board member of the Pankey Institute, and Friends of the NIDCR. He can be reached by e–mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.