Your teenage patients: Sports drinks and communication tools

May 23, 2011

By Scott Zimmerman
President of TeleVox Software, Inc.

Sports and energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular with teens, and dentists are becoming concerned about the lasting impact this trend may have on oral health. According to a study from the University of Iowa, sports drinks are even more corrosive to teeth than colas and energy drinks. Researchers found that the high sugar content and acids in sports drinks can damage tooth enamel and the roots of teeth. With weakened enamel, the teeth are more susceptible to bacteria that can sneak into the cracks and crevices in the teeth. Sugar can intensify the situation and encourage the bacterial growth.

The good news is that if teens are only using sports drinks to stay hydrated during athletic events, they probably won't have much to worry about. Saliva, which protects teeth by rinsing away acids and debris, neutralizes the negative effects of sports drinks. But while the sports drinks hydrate and stimulate tooth-protecting saliva flow during athletics, teens should avoid sipping them throughout the day since this will prolong teeth's contact with harmful sugar and acid.

Let’s face it. Dentists and orthodontists have their work cut out for them when it comes to protecting teenagers’ teeth. Besides the increase in sports drink consumption, many teens thrive on a diet of sugar- and carbohydrate-rich foods. Add to that the fact that junk food is available on nearly every corner, and promoting good oral health can be an uphill battle.

This is why many practitioners in the dental and orthodontic industry are turning to Engagement Communications technology to help them not only connect with their teenage patients, but motivate them to take action.
How? By utilizing e-mail, voice mail, text messaging, and social media to create a personal, human touch. These ongoing two-way dialogues with patients create a constant feedback loop that gives medical practices deeper insights into their patients’ motivations and needs, and offers the opportunity to react in real time.

Given that most teenage patients have their own mobile phones and spend their free time texting, they expect family and friends — and even their dentists and orthodontists — to communicate with them electronically. Leveraging technology to interact with them and address their needs is simply a requirement.

Taking the “no” out of no shows
In addition to providing patient communication between office visits, practices can also use technology to improve operational efficiencies within the office.

Take missed appointments for instance. Thousands of dental appointments are wasted every year by patients who simply don’t show up for scheduled visits. These missed appointments cost the practice money and result in longer wait times for patients to reschedule their appointments. With the help of an automated messaging system, many dental practices send an automated reminder to patients the day before their appointments, which has dramatically reduced the number of patient no-shows. Automated appointment reminders can be sent to patients via email, voicemail, or text message, whichever form of communication the patient prefers.

Similarly, orthodontists have the capability to electronically broadcast new policies or other important messages to their clients via text, email, or voice messaging. Dr. John Lazzara, DDS, MS, runs a highly successful Jacksonville, Fla.-based orthodontist office with dozens of teenage patients who often request after-school appointments. This patient requirement leads to scheduling problems and profitability challenges. Instead of turning clients away, Lazzara sent a broadcast message to 550 clients. The message thanked them for their business, explained the challenges the office was facing, and suggested that appointments be rotated so that every other appointment was scheduled for an earlier time of day. Patients were receptive and the practice was quickly able to implement a new policy of schedule rotation.

We’ve got you covered
Patients want to know that their dentist or orthodontist is looking out for them. Sending treatment reminders and informative tips between office visits is a step in the right direction. Dentists and orthodontists who understand and embrace ongoing patient engagement will deliver personalized interactions throughout the continuum of care, beginning before patients arrive at the office and continuing after they’ve left.

For example, an orthodontist with a patient who is nervous about playing sports after getting braces might show he or she cares by texting the patient on the day of a big game to remind him to wear a mouth guard while playing. The orthodontist also could suggest that the teen drink water instead of a sports drink during the game to keep the sugar from sticking to his new braces.

Or, a series of e-mail messages can be sent from a dentist to a group of teenage patients to educate them about the effects of sports drinks on their teeth. The first e-mail could suggest that in order to neutralize the effect of sports drinks on teens’ teeth, they should alternate sips of water with the drinks to prevent sugars and acids from sticking. A second message could suggest that if teens are consuming sports drinks socially, instead of during an athletic competition, they should use a straw to direct the drinks to the back of the throat and avoid corrosion of the teeth. A third message could remind teens that an oral hygiene routine that includes regular brushing and flossing will help minimize the effects of sports drinks. However, they should not run to the bathroom right after downing a drink because teeth are most vulnerable right after consumption, and brushing right away could add to the damage.

These personalized messages can be scheduled in advance and sent automatically at the right time. The technology also enables practices to use custom surveys after each visit and, if necessary, flag hot-button issues for follow-up. The surveys help practices keep tabs on the overall patient experience with regular two-way communication.

The results speak for themselves. Dental and orthodontic practices of all sizes are seeing the benefits of engaging and educating patients with ongoing communications. Not only do the automated messages help the practices improve patient satisfaction, they also help create loyal patients who are better informed about good oral health, despite the decay-causing effects of those sports drinks.

About the author
Scott Zimmerman, president of TeleVox Software, is a regularly published thought leader on Engagement Communications. Colleagues know him as a courageous leader, innovator, and clear thinker. He leads all aspects of TeleVox operations, including client operations, sales, information services, product development, and marketing. During his leadership, TeleVox has achieved double-digit revenue growth, netted more than 4,000 new customers, and experienced a dramatic increase in operating margin from productivity improvements and responsible cost-containment. Prior to joining TeleVox, Scott invested more than nine years at GE Healthcare in a variety of cross-functional and global leadership roles, as well as 18 years in the health care area. Scott serves on the executive board of the Distinguished Young Women program and the Advisory Board of USA School of Computer and Information Sciences. Scott is a graduate of the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.