By Lerin Madole
Lynda Gratton is a dental patient in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a few stories to tell – to say the least. In and out of offices for nearly 20 years, she has had almost half of her teeth replaced with implants. She offered some perspective from the patient chair and shared some opportunities for improvement to the patient experience, industry-wide. She commented on the importance of patient education, product options, practice specialization, and the process of finding a dentist.
Lynda was an excellent dental patient growing up. She went to the dentist regularly for routine exams and cleanings, and her parents made sure she took good care of her teeth at home.
In adulthood, that all changed. "I guess I got my dad's teeth," she said. "I never had any trouble until my 30s, and then I had 19 root canals in the span of 11 years."
Lynda sought the opinion of multiple dentists as to why her dental health changed so drastically. She received two different opinions: that the stresses of a divorce and being a young, single mother could have taken a toll on her mouth, or that moving her teeth too quickly with braces and headgear as a teen could have affected the roots of her teeth.
In any case, Lynda became all too familiar with the dental office, the lab, root canals, matching and fitting crowns and bridges, and even temporary partial dentures. She said, "I've had so many different dentists and I was always in and out of offices."
Lynda said that she was always more likely to try a practice that had been recommended by a friend. "An important lesson, though," she said, "is that everyone has a different experience in a dental office. I have friends with beautiful teeth that raved about their dentists, but it all came down to our different needs. I learned that there is more research to be done to learn about each dentist's specific credentials."
Eventually her dental work reached a lull. "I thought I was finally done," Lynda said. Unfortunately, she was wrong. "After a while, I had a whole new set of problems," she said. "Crowns weren't holding, teeth were breaking, and the colors weren't matching as they were repaired."
It seems that many of Lynda's experiences, both positive and negative, relied heavily on the patient education process. "I felt there was a big disconnect between what I was told when my dental issues first started in my 30s and the actual experience. If I had a better understanding of the timeline we were dealing with, not to mention the pain, I would have been better prepared to handle so many years of procedures."
Essentially starting the whole process over, Lynda then added implants to the list of attempted solutions. She said, "I had never imagined that there was another step for me beyond root canals and crowns."
As she underwent long surgeries to begin the dental implant process, Lynda still struggled with complications. As she continued her pursuit of permanent restoration solutions, she found her way to a specialist.
It took about two years and lots of bone grafts to build up her jawbone before any implants were placed successfully. "Seeing a specialist at that point really made a difference," she said. "He had everything in-house, so there were fewer offices to go back and forth between in the process. And having more teeth done at a time solved more of the color matching issues." This new office also had some alternative options that met some of her specific needs. They offered an oral sedative for long procedures since she has trouble with typical gas or anesthesia.
Lynda's stories are not all pleasant, but she wanted her message to be positive. She said, "Looking back, I would still do it all again, even knowing what I know now. I think that dentists are afraid to share the scary details, for fear of losing the patient." The changes she would make include starting with a specialist's practice, doing more research to find a good match with a doctor, and asking different questions to understand the process better.
The main takeaway from Lynda's experience is to highlight the importance of patient education and the doctor-patient relationship. Product development continues to improve patient experience, and more options are made available every day to make all aspects of the dental experience more comfortable and flexible with patients' specific needs.