SAN FRANCISCO - Improved patient engagement and greater productivity at dental practices hinge on embracing new technologies. Bringing new technology into dental practices empowers staff to take more responsibility, which leads to a boost in patient engagement and productivity, according to a presentation at the 2019 ADA FDI World Dental Congress.
Using diagnostic tools such as fiber-optic transillumination and interoral cameras helps hygienists better communicate with patients, which, in turn, helps them better understand and accept treatments, noted Pamela Maragliano-Muniz, DMD, of Salem Dental Arts in Salem, MA.
"Patients now are owning their diseases a whole lot more," she said.
Taking a photo of a patient's teeth allows a dental team to better monitor changes and often leads the person to follow through on treatment, maintenance, and follow-up.
"A patient will come in and say, 'I don't need to see the photo again. I have been thinking about it since the last time. Just crown my tooth,' " Maragliano-Muniz said.
A fiber-optic transilluminator is another must-have supplemental tool that helps diagnose caries. The primary advantage is that images look like radiographs but do not expose patients to radiation.
The tool also helps dental teams gain more information about problem teeth. When using the tool, a bright light illuminates the translucent tooth structure, revealing changes in tooth color, cracks, fractures, and other defects.
Knowing the exact location, depth, and other conditions means treatment can be less invasive for patients, she noted. For example, saliva on a tooth can prevent a dentist from noticing a crack, and using a transilluminator allows a practitioner to get a closer look and restore the tooth in the most efficient manner.
"It's worth its weight in gold," Maragliano-Muniz said. "No time is added to the dental hygiene visit. It provides a lot more education and diagnostics for me."
Dental teams also should not forget about testing their curing lights to ensure they are functioning properly. Apps are available that make it easy to accurately and routinely monitor the output of curing lights and provide precise curing times based on every reading.
Tech to transform smiles
Give patients a glimpse at the smiles they could have by using a dental augmented reality app at your practice, Maragliano-Muniz recommended. These apps use a patient's selfie to propose teeth positions and shapes.
"It's a simple, easy way to use technology to make you more profitable," she said. "Patients feel like they are part of the treatment planning process, and assistants feel good about selling a case and educating their patients."
Maragliano-Muniz also touched on the importance of practices dispensing products and encouraging additional treatments.
Dental practices need to abandon the idea that dispensing products to patients is a taboo subject. Instead, recommending products help patients make informed decisions. Nowadays, consumers are overwhelmed by the number of dental products they see on store shelves.
"I wish we didn't feel so uncomfortable about it," she said. "When dispensing in the office, you have control overvwhat they are getting, and you can help identify the products that will help with their specific issues."
Recommending and dispensing products goes hand in hand with initiatives, such as tooth decay prevention programs. When Maragliano-Muniz worked at another practice, its caries prevention program helped its dental hygienist improve production by $50,000 without changing schedules.
Instead, the hygienist did the following:
- Educated patients about risk factors for disease.
- Classified risk factors.
- Made risk management recommendations.
- Dispensed products.
- Recommended more frequent dental visits.
Building the products into a caries management program prevents team members from feeling like "used car salesmen," she said.
Hygienists also should be encouraged to recommend fluoride and antimicrobial varnishes. These varnishes take a few seconds to apply. In addition to the dental benefits, fluoride applications can be profitable, as an application adds between $30 and $50 to each appointment.