Something CAN be done to get lapsed dental patients back into your practice

We recently asked Bill Kohn, DDS, Delta Dental Plans Association’s vice president of dental science and policy, to answer a few questions about the startling revelation that nearly half of Americans have gone three years or more without seeing the dentist at least once during their lives, according to the Delta Dental Oral Health and Well-Being Survey.

DIQ: Dr. Kohn, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questios. Do you have any suggestions for dental professionals to get people back in the dental chair, or in the chair on a regular basis?

DR. KOHN: Reach out to existing patients who haven’t been seen in over a year and remind them they are due for a visit. Use whatever method suits your practice style –- email, postcards, or even a direct call. Prepare a short script about why oral health is important, and how oral disease is preventable, and refer to the script when talking with these patients.

Provide options to calm the fears of those with dental anxiety. Solutions can be as simple as explaining each step of a procedure, or providing headphones to listen to relaxing music. Very fearful patients might benefit from anti-anxiety medications or sedation. When a parent brings their kids in for a check-up, pull up the parent’s history, and if they haven’t been seen by you in a while, encourage them to schedule a visit while they are in the office.

If you participate in any insurance networks, see if the carrier offers any programs to target patients at risk for dental issues. Delta Dental has an initiative in some parts of the country to encourage patients with gum disease to see a dentist regularly for maintenance procedures, and children at high risk for tooth decay to get in for their fluoride treatments and sealants.

Don’t be afraid to discuss cost of care, and be willing to work with consumers on making payments easier. Encourage and provide guidance for those without dental benefits to explore what are the best options for them and their families. Individual policies are now available. Be accessible at hours convenient to the people in your area. Weekend and evening hours are often the only time some working people can come into your office.

QUESTION: Parents can set good examples. Can you address what parents can do to instill good oral habits in their children?

DR. KOHN: As with most things, parents should model desired behaviors for their children. I encourage parents to let their children observe from an early age as they visit their dentist regularly, brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and eat a healthy diet. Beyond simply serving as a role model, parents can try these tips to help their children develop good oral health habits:

Start cleaning your child’s teeth from infant on up until the child is able to brush on his or her own, which is about age six or seven. Starting early helps form the habit and makes children more comfortable and familiar with the process. Let your child pick out his or her own oral care products – toothbrushes with a favorite character or color, toothpastes in kid-friendly flavors, and special flossers with easy-to-use handles make the task of cleaning their teeth more appealing to kids.

Find a friendly pediatric or general dentist that your child feels comfortable with early on. Many practices make a special effort to make little patients happy, whether it’s fun toys in the waiting area, special prizes for a job well done, or even cartoons in the treatment rooms. When you talk to your kids about healthy eating, don’t forget to talk about which foods are good or bad for your teeth. Sweet treat holidays like Halloween or Valentine’s Day can be a good opportunity to talk about how treats like candy or cupcakes are for special occasions and not to be snacked on all day long.

QUESTION: Do you have any guesses as to why the south and west are less likely to have long-term relationships with their dentists?

DR. KOHN: We aren’t really sure why this is the case, but we’d be interested to explore this further in future surveys.

QUESTION: Have you all conducted this survey before, and if so, have the statistics improved?

DR. KOHN: This is the first time we’ve conducted such a survey, but we’d definitely be interested in revisiting this subject in a few years to see if there are any changes in Americans’ oral health behaviors.

We appreciate Dr. Kohn taking the time to offer some good suggestions for his peers, especially during these post recession years as many dentists try to build their practices back up.


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