by Roger P. Levin, DDS
For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: dental implants, Dr. Roger Levin, Atlantis abutment, educating dental patients.
Implant dentistry is one of the fastest growing areas in dentistry today. That trend will likely continue, as aging baby boomers — ever the mavericks — reject dentures as an outdated solution of their parents' generation and opt for implants in greater numbers. Advancements in implant dentistry and a surge in patient interest have created a tipping point where implant dentistry is becoming a normal part of daily practice. Millions of patients are now benefitting from dental implants, and yet this relatively young area of dentistry is only beginning to hit its stride.
Dental implants emerged in the 1980s as a viable option to the problem of edentulism. Since that time, there has been a steady increase in the number of implants placed, but only a small portion of dentists are actively restoring with large numbers of implants.
So the question is: How can more patients benefit from implant dentistry?
Challenges of implant dentistry
Implant dentistry only recently emerged as part of medical and dental treatment. While an increasing number of patients are familiar with dental implants, they're still not necessarily seen as a standard of care. I'm not referring to a legal standard, but a standard option that's offered to all patients with missing teeth. One of the reasons is that dental schools do not traditionally devote a full curriculum to implant education.
A great deal of implant education takes place in continuing education programs. This has left many dentists with gaps in understanding of all of the nuances and integral aspects of restorative implant dentistry. And until recently, the complexity of restorative systems and components was an obstacle for clinicians who wanted to incorporate implant dentistry into their practice.
Fortunately, there are solutions today that make implant dentistry easier than ever for the restorative doctor and patient. These include:1 The predictability and success rates of implant dentistry are higher than ever before. This is creating greater confidence for both professionals and patients in regard to offering and completing implant cases. As this confidence grows, more patients will ask for dental implants, making the process even easier in terms of treatment planning and case presentation.2 The Atlantis™ abutment by Astra Tech is a true breakthrough in implant restorative dentistry in terms of simplicity and predictability. Restorative doctors using this abutment system say that replacing the crown on an implant is easier than placing a crown on a natural tooth. 3 Dental implants are typically an elective service not covered by dental insurance. Fortunately, patient financing is now available either at a zero interest rate for a specific period of time or at a reasonable interest rate over a longer period of time. Patients can usually be approved in less than five minutes for financial coverage of a dental implant case, which increases the number of patients who can take advantage of this service.4 Communication between dental specialists and restorative doctors is improving all the time. A true team approach has emerged around implant dentistry. As communication has become more efficient, the entire implant process has become easier. This has led to a significant increase in the number of dental implants, as both parties work together in the best interest of the patient. Dental implants may be one of the best examples of the benefits of true interdisciplinary care.
Expanding the implant practice
Like all aspects of total practice success, dental implants rely on excellent systems. Implant systems should include educating patients about dental implants, offering dental implants to patients with missing teeth as one of their options, letting patients know that financing is available if they want to take advantage of it, and maintaining a high level of customer service.
The first step is to educate every patient about dental implants so that it will become an expectation. It would be wonderful if patients who were going to lose teeth automatically assumed that implants would be the next step. Given that the success rate of dental implants is so high and that the service contributes to an excellent quality of life, it's important for all patients to know about implant availability. The best time to educate patients about dental implants is before they actually need them. It then becomes an assumption rather than a decision.
The second step is to automatically educate patients who are about to lose a tooth or are missing teeth about dental implants. The practice needs to develop excellent scripting in order to motivate patients. Since dental implants are not covered by dental insurance, some offices are a little hesitant about how to present them.
Levin Group recommends that you simply provide dental implants as one of the main options to replacing missing teeth, and let patients know if you feel that dental implants are the best option. Patients today have so much respect for dentists that their ultimate decision will often be influenced by the dentist's recommendation.
The third step is to be sure that every patient knows that patient financing is available. This is good not only for all aspects of patient treatment, but it is especially important for an upper-level noninsurance covered service.
The fourth step is to provide outstanding customer service. I'm not referring to simply being nice to patients. It goes far beyond that. For dental implants, customer service focuses on how patients are referred back and forth between surgical specialists and restorative doctors, how the patient is moved through the implant process, the patient receiving full information at every step, and the patient understanding the timeline for treatment. When this is combined with a practice that already has a high level of caring for patients, the number of implants will immediately grow.
Another aspect of customer service for patients is to make treatment as simple as possible. The practice should actually explain to patients all about the Atlantis abutment and why it has made restorative treatment for dental implants so much easier.
Patients have no sense of comparison as to whether implants are worth going through the time, expense, and effort. By explaining that the process has become even simpler, you are much more likely to have a patient who decides to undergo dental implant treatment.
No dentist wants to have a stockroom overflowing with implant component parts. Now they don't have to, thanks to new advancements in dental technology. This versatile, patient-specific abutment eliminates the need for ordering and inventorying components. Translation: the practice saves time, money, and headaches.
This implant system is uniquely designed based on desired final tooth shape, unlike a premachined stock abutment. For restoration, the restorative doctor has to take only one impression and send it to the dental laboratory. Doctors using these abutments report that they are extremely pleased with the standardization of the procedure and the results.
It is important to note that this abutment can be used with almost any implant system. This simple and flexible component fits almost any interface, and the abutment is manufactured from biocompatible titanium or zirconia, which offer strength and durability while eliminating the need for special instruments. The Atlantis abutment is an enormous breakthrough in the restorative aspect of implant dentistry.
Strategies for implant growth
It is critical that dental practices expand their services. Even during a time of diminishing dental insurance, uncertain economic cycles, and consumer shopping, dental practices can continue to grow successfully when new services are introduced. Advancements in abutments have taken implant dentistry to a new level of simplicity, allowing practices to expand their implant programs.
The following strategies will help to increase the number of implants you restore:1 EDCUATE PATIENTS about dental implants. As I mentioned earlier, patient education is key. If a patient loses a tooth, the expectation should be that an implant is the next step. This approach is especially valid in the case of single-tooth replacements, which is more conservative compared to reducing adjacent teeth to place a bridge. Provide implant education to patients through a variety of communication vehicles, including brochures, fact sheets, and e-mail updates. 2 MEET WITH your surgical specialist and let him or her know you will be using his or her services. 3 COMMUNICATE WITH your lab about this well-received component. It's a favorite of dental laboratories because it has high levels of predictability and excellent results.
Implant dentistry is the fastest growing field in dentistry. Breakthrough products will solve a number of the issues that have challenged restorative dentists. Implant dentistry is easier and more predictable than ever before.
Dental Economics® readers are entitled to receive a 50% courtesy on a Total Success Practice Potential Analysis™, an in-office evaluation of your unique situation conducted by a Levin Practice Development Specialist. To schedule an appointment, call (888) 973-0000 and mention Dental Economics® or send an e-mail to customer [email protected] with “Dental Economics PPA” in the subject line.
Dr. Roger P. Levin is chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc., the leading dental practice management firm. Levin Group provides Total Practice SuccessTM, the premier comprehensive consulting solution for lifetime success to dentists in the U.S. and around the world. To learn more about Total Practice SuccessTM Consulting, go to www.levingroupgp.com, call (888) 973-0000, or send an e-mail to [email protected].