An 'aha' moment takes a practice to the next level

Feb. 1, 2011
There's nothing like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. When you find that one thing - a tool, a procedure, or a perspective - that enables you to leapfrog your practice forward in the direction that you have long wanted to go, it changes everything.

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: orthodontics, patient education, Invisalign, periodontal disease.

by Kristen A. Burris, DDS

There's nothing like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. When you find that one thing - a tool, a procedure, or a perspective - that enables you to leapfrog your practice forward in the direction that you have long wanted to go, it changes everything.

I am the only dentist in Ellis County, Okla., and in neighboring Lipscomb County, Texas. I have practiced for 26 years, the last 16 years in Shattuck, a farming, ranching, and oilfield community in the Oklahoma panhandle.

Treating symptoms first

In 2005, I went to an Invisalign introductory class on clear aligner technology. I began practicing orthodontics when practicing in southeast Oklahoma, and I love it because I particularly like working with kids. But I lacked a good solution for my adult patients who wanted to straighten their teeth but did not want wires and brackets. The Invisalign product impressed me. The company was legitimate with a product that I would not hesitate to put in the mouths of my clients, whom I see every day at the store, at church, and around town.

Fitting in a new addition

Adding the clear aligner solution to our practice was a natural addition to expand our capabilities. My staff and I primarily viewed the solution as a cosmetic enhancement tool for patients who wanted it.

As I saw the great results that my few patients gained from clear aligners, I wanted to be able to recommend them more often. But I found it awkward to introduce them to my adult patients. I'm not a salesperson. I prefer to do what I do best - diagnose problems, educate patients about their conditions, and provide treatment to maintain their oral health.

Aha!

My "aha moment" came when I attended a general practitioners' forum sponsored by Align Technology. There, I saw the clear aligner approach presented as a way to move teeth to eliminate crowding and misalignment, and to address malocclusions that are at the root, so to speak, of a vast number of patient issues. What I had initially thought of as a cosmetic dentistry tool suddenly became a significant step in helping patients eliminate the causes of wear, joint pain, and periodontal disease, for which we previously had been able to treat only symptoms.

When I reintroduced my team to the clear aligner process, they immediately grasped the health impact that it could have. We instituted intraoral photos into the hygiene procedure for all patients, taking images so that we could actually show patients the wear and crowding problems that we see.

More and better results

One of our patients has long battled severe periodontal disease as a result of crowding and difficulty in cleaning. A year ago, we were talking about having to remove her incisors because the perio disease was so severe. When she agreed to moving her teeth, positive change began almost immediately. Today, her teeth are much tighter and her perio issues have improved considerably.

Our hygienists are excited about the ability to address the cause of many of the problems they see. For years, they have watched dental issues progress, but they had no tool to address them. Now we do. The clear aligner solution also empowers patients to do more self-care, such as flossing and cleaning, once the crowding or other issues are resolved and their teeth are in proper position.

Treating the cause, not just symptoms

For us, new solutions, such as the clear aligners, are not about generating revenue. We are completely booked up as it is! For us, it's about being able to incorporate solutions that help prevent or eliminate the root causes of disease to begin with, which makes it easier to introduce new technology and solutions to patients. I can educate patients and present a legitimate solution that can make a huge difference. They may or may not decide to take the suggestion, but I have done everything I can to help them improve their health. And I get to be a doctor, not a salesperson.

Kristen A. Burris, DDS, started her practice in the rural town of Shattuck in northwest Oklahoma in 1984. Her dental clinic provides pediatric care, orthodontic care with straight-wire orthodontics, Invisalign, Invisalign Teen, laser periodontal care, root canal therapy, CEREC crowns, extractions, and full and partial dentures to the large rural population. She can be reached at [email protected].

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