How the internet can improve your dental patients’ care

Jan. 20, 2017
Use of the internet should not be forbidden in dental operatories for dental staff. It's an invaluable tool that can help dental professionals educate patients, search for needed information, and much more. 

I worked an exhibitor’s booth at the 2016 Under One Roof conference in National Harbor, Maryland. I spoke to attendees about Colgate’s new Gum Health Physical tool, an online resource that allows dental professionals to custom tailor patient education instructions and provide patients with a personalized report they can take home.

But I had quite a few hygienists come up to me and say they aren’t able to use the internet in their operatories. I found this quite disheartening as I use the internet daily in my workplace and couldn’t imagine treating patients without this essential piece of technology. I couldn’t even begin to expect people to use the Gum Health Physical tool if they weren’t able to go online.

The whole idea of not being able to go online in the dental operatory during patient treatment really stuck with me. I take for granted this valuable tool I’ve been using for years. I’ve worked in the same dental office for 11 years and I’ve always been able to go online whenever necessary. The dentist has always been enthusiastic when it comes to technology.

I conducted an informal online poll on Colgate’s RDH network to research how prevalent it is for dental hygienists to have internet access in their operatory. Of the 150 respondents, the results showed that 66% of dental hygienists are able to go online in their operatories. Nine percent reported they’re able to use the internet from another area in the office, which means they’re competing with other staff members for a limited resource. Overall, one third of dental hygienists are at a technological disadvantage when it comes to providing optimal patient care.

Several hygienists at Under One Roof commented that they actually use their smartphones to look up information for patients. This got me thinking about how patients view this situation. They clearly would not view this office as technologically advanced. Also, smartphones do not have printing capabilities, so hygienists would be lacking the ability to fully serve their patients’ needs.

I thought about all of the ways that I use the internet to help me while treating patients. I wonder if everyone else knows about all of the ways they can optimize patient care by accessing the many choices of online dental resources. I want the dental community to know about the many benefits the internet offers during patient appointments. We use it every day to access information we need, and most of us couldn’t function without it. Why not in the dental office too?

Internet applications during patient appointments

Looking up medications—Prescription medications are constantly changing, which makes it difficult to stay up to date with the latest drugs. When I update medical histories, patients don't always have their complete drug information. So I look up their prescription medications online, which allows me to get the information I need instantly for spelling, drug indication, drug interactions, and more. and are excellent websites for accurate medication information.

Providing patient education and resources—The internet is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to providing patients with knowledge to take care of their teeth at home. and provide free information on a wide variety of topics in multiple languages. Another innovative tool I use is Colgate’s Gum Health Physical, which has several attention-grabbing visual aids in its patient education section. My patients love getting the personalized report at the end of their appointment that highlights the areas they need to focus on at home.

Accessing samples and coupons—When it comes to helping patients get the best products for their needs, I try to provide samples. I’ve been able to get a wide variety of samples online throughout the years, which allows me to stay current regarding new and innovative dental products.

Researching patient questions and new trends—When it comes to educating patients, it’s critical to stay current on all the latest dental information. If a patient has a question I can’t answer, I can look it up online on a reputable website.

Getting product information—When recommending a specific product, it can be very easy for the person to forget the name of the product when they leave your office. When a staff member can print out the product information from the manufacturer’s website, patients will be able to locate the item with ease.

Accessing insurance benefits—Patients often ask questions about insurance, such as, will this x-ray be covered? I’m often able to access their benefits online from a bookmarked webpage, which lets me give them a quick answer. It’s never convenient for me to leave the operatory, check with another staff member who may not even be available, and then wait for an answer.

Concerns about internet use

I can think of only a few disadvantages when it comes to using the internet in the operatory. The first is the problem of dental staff “playing around” on the internet during their downtime. The second is the risk of acquiring viruses when going online. When addressed appropriately, neither issue should hold back your staff and patients from the numerous benefits of improved patient care with internet usage.

According to Pew Research in 2015, nearly two thirds of people in the U.S. own smartphones, so clearly most people have access to the internet while on the job.(1) A well-defined office policy regarding internet use is a must when dealing with today’s technology.

It’s nearly impossible to envision life today without the internet. In keeping with this trend, why should any dental operatory be without it? It’s an invaluable tool that provides the instant answers we need in our hectic lives. Perhaps the most convincing argument for internet use in the dental operatory is that patient perception of the value of their dental appointment will increase substantially. Their loyalty is yours!

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Amber Metro-Sanchez, RDH, BA, has practiced dental hygiene for the past 11 years at Comfort Dental with Dr. Chris Bible in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was selected to be a member of the Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board in 2015. Amber has been a contributing author for the Colgate Oral Health Advisor webpage since March 2016. She may be reached at [email protected].

Recommended Websites

1. “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015”. Pew Research Center website. Accessed August 26, 2016.