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Help patients understand their dental options

Sept. 1, 2006
While presenting patient treatment options may not be as simple as choosing a toothbrush color, it can greatly increase your success.
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While presenting patient treatment options may not be as simple as choosing a toothbrush color, it can greatly increase your success

Innovative technologies in today’s dental practice provide powerful support tools to build trust and help patients understand their treatment options. Knowing their dentist keeps up with the latest technological developments also tends to reassure patients faced with any decision that they are selecting the right treatment option and will be receiving the highest quality care.

Advanced tools such as practice-management and clinical software, digital imaging, and patient-education software enable doctors to educate patients about the important health implications of their treatment options, creating efficiencies for the practice and a partnership that results in more informed patient choices about treatment.

The following process details the advantages of establishing a comprehensive system in your practice to help patients understand their treatment options.

A warm welcome

When you place yourself in the care of another person, the relationship should be based on trust and understanding. Building this type of relationship with your patients is the key to successfully helping them manage their oral health care. For every patient who visits my practice (Andover Smiles), his or her experience begins with upfront patient education about the high quality of care our well-equipped and well-trained staff will provide. Having a system in place for the entire treatment process streamlines the patient experience to create a standard for providing individualized care and personal attention to each and every patient.

During the initial visit, each patient receives an introduction to our staff and a tour of the office. A member of our staff welcomes patients when they arrive and makes them feel comfortable. The staff member explains the advanced technology utilized in our practice, beginning the tour in a treatment room, where we display digital X-rays and before-and-after photos on a 17-inch television monitor. While showing patients around the office, we also stop at our CEREC machine to explain this technology. The tour concludes with a stop in my office, where I meet with patients to discuss their esthetic needs and desires.

Powerful treatment-planning

I first meet patients in my private office. We have found many people feel “threatened” in a treatment room, and that their blood pressure may increase and their breathing may become more rapid as a result. The privacy of my office helps patients feel more at ease and allows us to talk openly about their situations. We spend about 10 minutes discussing why they are here, what their needs are, and how we can achieve their cosmetic goals. Asking questions allows the patient to open up and do most of the talking.

What the patient tells me during the initial consultation dictates where we go in the treatment room. To assess the patient’s current situation, the first thing we do is record a series of six-to-eight extraoral digital photographs using a Canon PowerShot A620 camera. From there, we use an A-dec intraoral camera to take photographs. While a staff member is taking digital X-rays (we use a Schick unit), I will upload the extraoral images to the patient’s record in Patterson EagleSoft, our practice-management and clinical software, along with the intraoral photos and digital X-rays.

When I return to the treatment room for consultation, the patient and I review the extraoral images on screen and discuss the cosmetics and esthetics of their case, I explain what we want to do and why we want to do it. Extraoral photos provide an excellent selling tool for addressing cosmetic concerns. Together, we review the patient’s digital X-rays and intraoral photos and examine the condition of their teeth on the monitor. This allows me to quickly and easily illustrate the areas of concern using a laser pointer. Using imaging to educate patients about the conditions inside their mouth effectively prepares them for our discussion about the treatment possibilities and why I’m recommending a certain treatment for their particular situation.

Address patient concerns

To address patient concerns about recommended treatment, the final piece of the process is to show the patient’s potential. Patients are nervous before committing to any big procedure, so we use CAESY patient-education systems to inform the patient about existing conditions, explain the treatment options, and provide the patient with an idea of the steps involved in a specific procedure.

For example, in a veneers case, I explain that the first step is taking preliminary impressions, followed by a smile analysis in which a face-bow transfer will document the relationship between the upper and lower teeth. We provide this, along with digital images, to the lab. Within two weeks, the lab will provide a wax-up that demonstrates how we want the final restoration to look. The patient understands that the wax is used to take an impression and create a template for the provisional restorations, which in turn will serve as a template for the permanent veneers. Adhering to this protocol not only allows for excellent communication with the lab and predictable results for the doctor, but it also caters to patient concerns.

Finally, we always address patients regarding the financing. After the treatment plan is entered into Patterson EagleSoft - which documents the teeth involved, type of procedure, etc. - a cost estimate of the total fee can be printed for the patient to review with a staff member in our private consultation room. Additionally, by using CAESY Enterprise, we can send the patient home with a multimedia CD containing complete information on the proposed procedures. The patient can then share this information with family and friends. With the treatment-planning already complete in the treatment room, checkout also becomes much faster for the patient and staff.

Technology equates quality and efficiency

Comprehensive care begins with developing trust and initiating a partnership with your patients to assist them in getting the best possible oral-health care. The first critical step is making patients feel welcome, finding out their needs and, most importantly, educating them on their treatment options. By establishing a standard consultation procedure, you can create a comprehensive experience for your patients with a focus on individual attention and personalized treatment plans. Reliable procedures and high-tech tools provide a standard of excellence that creates smarter patients who are willing to invest in your services. Furthermore, utilizing technology equates to quality and efficiency in your practice. Innovative technologies serve to support the productivity of your practice and educate your patients about their options in maintaining beautiful, healthy smiles.

Steven J. Rinaldi, DMD, graduated from Tufts School of Dental Medicine in 1987, and practiced in Cumberland, R.I., for 13 years before experiencing burnout. He sold his practice, moved with his family to Andover, Mass., and opened Andover Smiles in May of 2004. His practice is paperless and incorporates all of the latest technology. For more information, visit or contact Dr. Rinaldi by phone at (978) 475-9141 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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