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Preventive dentistry: A joint venture between dentists and dental hygienists

May 28, 2017
Dr. Diana Zardouz explains how she realized that dentists and dental hygienists should be working together on preventive dentistry.

By Diana Zardouz, DDS

I’m sure all dentists can attest that dental school was probably one of the hardest ordeals to go through. It definitely was not an easy feat. From what I hear, hygienists had very similar experiences during dental hygiene school.

I look back and think, “How did we all do it?”

What’s even more interesting is that most of us really thought everything we learned in dental school was all that was needed to be the best practicing dentists we could be. What surprised me was that our education in dental school was just the barebones of our field. Since we graduated dental school and have picked up on new techniques to perfect our craft each and every day, we have realized that we truly did not delve deep enough into one large aspect of the dental world—preventive dentistry.

Preventive dentistry is crucial to keeping patients well informed before disaster strikes in the oral cavity. I am sure our patients would be very grateful to know there are ways to stop decay, recession, and erosion before they even occur. But, all of this starts with us, as dentists, being well informed.

I believe having been more extensively trained in the subject of preventive dentistry while we were in school would have helped us tremendously. In my opinion, if we worked more closely with the dental hygiene students as well as the graduate students in our school programs, we would have been better able to understand preventive dentistry.

The most important aspect of our field is to learn from each other. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in practices alongside senior dentists, specialists, and hygienists who have taught me invaluable information with respect to diet and the oral-body connection since I graduated from dental school. During my first year after graduating, I recall one patient coming in for her yearly exam, and the owner dentist noticed she was developing erosion on the facial aspects of her teeth.

The dentist asked, “Has your diet changed in the past year? Have you been eating any acidic foods?”

The patient responded, “Well, I have been drinking more lemon water in the mornings. It’s a new fad that is supposed to help me lose weight.” The owner dentist began to explain the harm lemons can do to enamel.

The patient responded, “I wish I had known better before ruining my teeth.”

I remember another incident when a patient came in, and the well-experienced hygienist noticed abnormally heavy bleeding while she was performing a prophylaxis.

She asked, “Has your medical history changed at all since your last few visits?”

The patient stated he was not aware of any changes and had not been to his physician for the past few years. She recommended that he visit his MD for a work-up. A few months later, he returned and stated he was diagnosed with diabetes. The hygienist began to inform the patient about the side effects of diabetes with respect to the oral cavity. The patient was very appreciative that he was able to understand the importance of oral hygiene due to his condition.

These are the topics I wish we had covered more in dental school. We need to educate our patients in our initial comprehensive exams before disaster strikes, informing them about the importance of our diet, as well as the connection between our oral health and overall well-being.

I, myself, have been a patient in the chair. During my routine oral hygiene and exam a few years ago, the hygienist mentioned I would benefit from using the Waterpik Water Flosser in addition to my regular hygiene routine. Since then, I have been using it religiously because I have noticed a difference, and I usually recommend it to patients, close friends, and family members when needed. I was not aware of this wonderful product, and was only introduced to it while I was the patient—another example of how I wish we had learned about evidence-based devices and tools in dental school. Had I not been informed about the Waterpik Water Flosser, I would not have been able to experience the positive results, nor recommend it to my patients and help them improve their hygiene, especially the ones who hate flossing.

Other adjuncts that I have been educated about by hygienists over the past few years are the various types of electric toothbrushes and interproximal brushes on the market. These are wonderful tools in terms of helping patients prevent oral inflections. Incorporating and marketing these tools at our dental offices should be the norm because our patients deserve the best and should be well-educated. After every hygiene appointment, we should encourage our hygienists to list the tools that our patients should use to improve their hygiene habits. Just like a dermatologist sells products in-house, we should be selling these products in our offices as well. Most patients get confused when going to their local drugstores about which items they need to pick up, and when they don’t find what they are looking for, they lose interest as well as their valuable time.

If we sell these products in-house and dispense them accordingly, we would be able to clearly explain how to utilize them and answer any questions our patients may have. It would be a convenient way to cater to our patients and a wonderful service to add in the realm of preventive dentistry. I am sure our patients would love this, and greatly benefit from it.

Similarly, as dentists, we need to raise the bar in terms of our patient’s dental knowledge and help educate them to prevent oral disease before it strikes. There are many times I have heard patients say, “I wish I had known...” Let’s stop this recurring theme, and teach our patients during the comprehensive initial exam using flow-charts about diet, the oral-to-overall body health connection, and the harm of drug-use and vaping. This will improve the patient-dental professional relationship and improve oral health outcomes. Patients crave to be taught. I know because I was one in the hands of my own dentist and hygienist before going to dental school.

Preventive dentistry is the golden ticket to prevent disaster, and we should all make it our number one priority in our offices, all day and every day.

Diana Zardouz, DDS, is in private practice in Southern California. She earned her BA degree with double honors in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Because of her love for art and science, Dr. Zardouz decided to pursue a career in dentistry, and obtained her dental degree from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC in Los Angeles. To contact Dr. Zardouz, please email: [email protected].

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