FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Category: Patients (Page 1 of 5)

Browse tips and resources to help you support your patients.

Is your directory listing up to date?

When was the last time you checked your Find a Dentist directory listing? If you’ve changed office hours or added a staff member who speaks a different language, then it’s time to update your listing.

Millions of patients rely on the Delta Dental directory to locate nearby dentists who fit their needs. Make sure that you’re broadcasting the right information. Updating your listing only take a few minutes and is an excellent way of attracting new patients.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Log in to Provider Tools and select My account.
  2. Click on Directory profile.
  3. Go to Actions and click Open.
  4. Update information, as needed.
  5. Save as draft if you’re not yet ready to publish your updates or select Publish if you’re ready to go live.

Remember, your listing can and should be revised anytime changes are made to your business. We recommend setting up a yearly reminder to check your listing for accuracy. While you’re at it, be sure to verify your other heavily searched online listings such as YelpFacebookGoogle and Apple.

Help new patients find your practice

A lot has changed over the past year. If your practice made any updates, let Delta Dental members know. From updates to office hours to new languages spoken by staff, these changes can be quite valuable to members searching for a dentist. If you can’t remember the last time you checked on your listing, consider this your reminder.

Millions of members rely on the Find a Dentist directory. Keeping your profile up to date is an easy way to attract new patients and it only takes a few minutes.

How to update your directory listing:

  1. Log into Provider Tools and select My account.
  2. Click on Directory profile.
  3. Go to Actions and click Open.
  4. Update information, as needed.
  5. Save as draft or select Publish.

Once you’ve gone through the steps, we recommend setting a yearly reminder to check your listing for accuracy. You might also want to update your information on heavily searched sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Google and Apple, while you’re at it.

Are you on your patient’s wavelength?

Each patient visit is an opportunity to build trust in your care. Being culturally aware enables you to communicate clearly and understandably with patients, no matter their ethnic or cultural backgrounds. One-to-one communication with patients at their levels shows respect and can increase cooperation in their treatment.

Why is this more important now? Your current (and potential) patients’ cultural backgrounds and ethnicities reflect America’s growing diversity. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 2019 estimates, this is the makeup of the U.S. population:

  • White (not Hispanic or Latino): 60.1%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 18.5%
  • Black or African American 13.4%
  • Asian: 5.9%
  • American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander: 1.5%

Since the 2010 U.S. Census, the non-white population percentage has increased from 36.2 to 39.9. Being aware of cultural differences, especially language, will put you and your patients on the same wavelength for achieving quality care. And you can develop valuable skills to do this.

Cultural competency consists of five components:

  1. Cultural awareness. Take time to understand patients’ beliefs, values and practices.
  2. Cultural knowledge. Learn world views of diverse patient groups.
  3. Cultural skill. Collect relevant cultural data about the patients’ health problems and conduct interviews and evaluations to determine treatments based on needs.
  4. Cultural encounters. Participate in multicultural activities to learn about diverse groups.
  5. Cultural desire. Deliver care for all patients equally, regardless of cultural values and beliefs.

To raise your practice’s competency level, you can take steps to more effectively communicate with patients of diverse backgrounds and their friends and relatives.

3 steps for closing the language gap

Ask your patients (or their friends or family members) what their preferred language is and what makes them comfortable and note it in the chart. Communicating with a patient in his or her native language is key.  Not only does this put patients more at ease, but it also makes it easier to track their concerns about care.

Besides English, the top languages spoken at home in the U.S. are (ranked in order by most speakers):  Spanish, Chinese, French or French-based creoles, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean, German, Arabic, Russian and Italian.

But what if you don’t speak your patients’ native languages? You can take three steps to boost your practice’s language capabilities:

  1. Take advantage of Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program. Customer Service phone assistance is available in over 170 languages for enrollees.
  2. Advise patients with limited English proficiency that they can call the LAP to arrange for a qualified interpreter to help at no cost. For onsite interpretation services, call at least 72 hours in advanced of the appointment time.
  3. Keep on hand printed materials translated in the languages most relevant to your practice so they’re available to patients. This may include forms, pre- and post-operative instructions, health and wellness materials, emergency phone numbers and anything else that may help.

How to boost your practice’s cultural awareness

Learning more about cultural differences and achieving competency are two ways to ensure that your practice thrives in a changing cultural landscape.  You can do this by gaining skills:

  • Attend classes and continuing education courses, onsite or online, that address social customs among different cultures in your community.
  • Go to multicultural events to learn about the interests, lifestyles and values of people with diverse backgrounds and form relationships.
  • Learn a few key phrases in native languages, such as “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “open wide,” “where does it hurt?” and “do you have any questions?”
  • If you have bilingual or multilingual staff members, encourage them to help co-workers communicate with patients.

Achieving cultural competency can help your practice welcome more patients. You can update your Delta Dental directory listing if you have fluency in non-English languages. Let patients know you are on their wavelength

Delta Dental language resources for your practice

  • Our website in English and in Spanish
  • Automated telephone service for eligibility, benefits and more in Spanish
  • Downloadable English to Spanish phrase guide (PDF)
  • Dentist Handbook: Log in and select Reference Library; you can find LAP resource information and English, Chinese and Spanish versions of enrollee grievance forms.

Kids’ unmet oral health needs highlighted by the pandemic

Do you know how many of your patients plan to become pregnant or adopt a child in the next year? Unlike physicians, you probably see most of your patients every six months. In the space between cleanings, a woman could be almost 2/3 of the way through a pregnancy or an average adoption could be nearly finalized.

Since visits can be far apart, communication is key. When your patients tell you about plans to have a child, tell them how important it is to consider dental health and visits to the dentist as an important part of a child’s overall health. Less than half of parents receive professional advice on when to start taking their child to the dentist, which can lead to early oral health problems and dental disease.

The pandemic’s effect on pediatric oral health

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, dental disease among children was rampant:

The pandemic made these problems worse by stressing the financial systems that deliver dental care with job loss that led to lack of coverage and loss in income. As a result of the pandemic, households were three times more likely to indicate that dental care was an unmet health need of theirs rather than medical care, according to a JADA study. The authors found a significant association between the probability of unmet child dental care and pandemic-related household income or job loss.

About 40% of families reported the loss of a job or decrease in income due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, children from families with lower incomes or on Medicaid were twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households. Whether due to lost or decreased income, fear of contracting COVID-19 or mixed communication from health organizations, dental care visits dropped in 2020.

Luckily, households were unlikely to completely lose health insurance during the pandemic. Robust signups for Medicare and Medicaid kept many people insured. But cost remains the major barrier to receiving dental care. Although access to pediatric dental care has grown for families with public insurance since the early 2000s, inequitable access continues to be linked to socioeconomic status. Additional barriers include difficulty finding a dentist, transportation and geographic proximity to available dentists.

What you can do to address unmet needs

As a dentist or a hygienist, you’ve got a lot to do in a day. You can still find ways to address children’s health that fit into your office’s workflow. Here are some examples you can use to start the conversation with your co-workers and with patients:

  • Talk about timelines. Be sure to inform any new parents, guardians or caretakers about recommended timelines for pediatric care to guarantee they get the information they need from a trusted source.
  • Get innovative. Did you know that 75% of pediatric dentists offer virtual services, compared to only a third of general dentists? If you haven’t explored teledentistry services, consider adding them to your repertoire.
  • Share materials. Explore Delta Dental’s wellness resources and share a selection of helpful articles and flyers in your office or on your website. You can even highlight assets that are made for kids, like MySmileKids and Grin! for Kids.
  • Collaborate instead of criticizing. Making a patient feel guilty, ashamed or afraid for their health rarely works to inspire improvement. Focus on behaviors that they can change and empower them with knowledge.
  • Gather information. Your patients may feel uncomfortable if you ask them directly about their plans to conceive or adopt in the next year. If your practice already does pre-screenings, consider adding a question to capture that information and add it to the patient’s file.

How Delta Dental invests in communities

The best way to treat the pediatric oral health dilemma is large investment in public dental health, something dentists can’t really do on their own. The COVID-19 pandemic stressed the financial system that supports the delivery of dental care services, revealing that changes are required to support access to dental care during times of changing financial situations.

To help dentists make investments in their communities, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation awards several million dollars in grants each year to increase access to care. These awards enable underserved individuals, including children, to get preventive and restorative treatments in accessible locations. More than 250 organizations received funding from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation during the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling $11 million to provide relief. Many of these clinics support and serve children.

These Access to Care grants fund activities designed to remove barriers to seeking care such as distance, cost and even fear. The grants can be used to set up mobile or pop-up clinics in a local community, provide dental care in underserved clinical settings, fund outreach programs or offset costs for clinics that routinely provide care to underserved populations.

What comes next

The U.S. economy seems to be recovering. The national unemployment rate is projected to fall to 5.3% by the end of the year. But the problems highlighted by the pandemic shouldn’t be ignored.

As a dentist or dental hygienist, you can’t be expected to fix all of the problems in the American economy or health care industry. Still, by making active efforts to be accessible and communicative with your patients, you can make a difference in their lives and the lives of their children.

Prescribing in an epidemic: alternatives to dental opioids

In 2019, 49,860 people in the United States died from an overdose involving opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More than 14,000 of those deaths were the direct result of prescriptions for the substance. In fact, the American Journal for Preventative Medicine reports that dentists are responsible for one in 10 of all U.S. opioid prescriptions. Opioid misuse is an epidemic in America. While the substance can be helpful in easing pain due to surgery, injury or illness, its highly addictive nature puts users at risk for addiction, overdose and death.

Luckily, prescriptions opioids such as hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl are not the only option to prescribe to your patients dealing with dental pain. Let’s take a look at the risks and, more importantly, the solutions.

The slippery slopes of addiction and recovery

The reward centers of our brains can’t help but love opioids at first: The drug triggers endorphins, diluting feelings of pain and boosting euphoria. Though this effect can be particularly useful in a medical setting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 136 in the United States die every day from opioid overdoses.

Prescription opioids become more addictive when taken in ways other than prescribed, such as snorting or injection. The road to recovery from opioid abuse is not an easy one. Painful withdrawal symptoms can kick in within hours of an addict’s last dose. Prescribing opioids to a patient in recovery who may not have disclosed their current or past drug abuse is a risk that every medical professional should take into consideration.

Anyone who is taking opioids is at risk of developing addiction, according to the Mayo Clinic. Of course, there are other influences at work that can put a person at higher risk for addiction. These environmental, emotional and genetic factors can all contribute:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Age
  • Family and personal history of drug abuse
  • Mental health

What to prescribe instead of opioids

As a professional who know how effective prescription opioids can be, it may feel counterintuitive for you to cut a useful resource from your practice. However, as the opioid epidemic soldiers on for yet another decade, the risk versus reward must be taken into account.

For minor aches and pains, The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recommends basic over-the-counter ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and steroids. Studies show that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be more effective at reducing pain than opioids and The American Dental Association (ADA) offers a helpful chart on prescribing NSAIDs as an alternative to opioids.

  • For mild pain from procedures such as gingivectomies, simple extractions or subgingival restorative work, the ADA recommends 200 to 400 mg of ibuprofen every four to six hours, as needed.
  • For moderate to severe pain from procedures such as implant surgery or surgical extraction, the ADA recommends 400 to 600 mg plus 500 mg of acetaminophen every six hours for 24 hours.
  • When it comes to chronic pain, some anti-seizure medications work on the same neurotransmitters as pain, according to the University of Southern California (USC). USC also recommends muscle relaxants and local anesthetics as alternatives to opioids.

What you can do now

Despite the three decades that Americans have spent in an opioid crisis, there is much work still to be done. One of the easiest first steps that you can take is simply limiting prescriptions to opioids and taking the time to research safer recommendations for your patients. For more resources on addiction, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Why your patients’ blood pressure matters

In addition to your exam findings, do you evaluate your patient’s blood pressure readings? May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, when you can renew focus on the importance of heart health in oral health and total wellness care.

The time you take for a blood pressure reading gives you vital information for your patient’s gum treatment, which may reduce hypertension risk.

The causal link between gum disease and hypertension

A March 2021 research study showed that patients with periodontitis and no other health issues are twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure as those with healthy gums. This may suggest that periodontal bacteria can trigger an inflammatory response that affects blood vessel function and lead to the development of hypertension.

When does blood pressure signal health risks?

A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. You should be concerned if the systolic/diastolic reading falls into one of these categories:

  • Elevated: 120-129 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg
  • Stage 1 Hypertension: 130-139 mm Hg or 80-89 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: >140 mm Hg or > 90 mm Hg

Hypertension puts your patients at risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the U.S. Nearly half (45%) the adults in the U.S. have hypertension or are taking medication to control it, according to the CDC, and only 24% of them have it under control.

The dangers of gum disease

Gum disease triggers inflammation that thickens the lining of blood vessels. The thickening plaques decrease blood flow, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Patients with healthier gums had lower blood pressure and responded better to medications, compared to those with periodontitis, according to an analysis, published in Hypertension, based on review of medical and dental exam records of more than 3,600 people with high blood pressure. 

What’s more, periodontal therapy can make a difference. Intensive periodontal treatment lowered blood pressure levels (12.67 mm Hg/9.65 mm Hg) in patients over six months, after a four-week intervention, according to a clinical study published in 2017 in the Journal of Periodontology.

How you can educate your patients about high blood pressure

With this in mind, use your blood pressure check as an opportunity to educate your patients. If you notice an elevated reading, discuss the importance of getting blood pressure under control.

And you can explain how keeping gums healthy can contribute to better circulation and heart function through lowering blood pressure.

Your periodontal treatment and advice on daily flossing and brushing regimens take on added value for your patient, in reducing risks from hypertension.

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