Dentist blog from Delta Dental

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Keep our military vets shining with the Community Care Network

This Veterans Day, ask yourself how you can better serve those who have served. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Community Care Network (CCN) is a great place to start. CCN partners dentists like you with eligible Veterans and their beneficiaries to ensure that they get the high-quality care that they need.

Why join CCN?

More than just a great service for our military veterans, CCN comes with perks for participating dentists, as well.

Community Care Network introductory webinars

If you’re interested in learning more about joining CCN, you can attend one of our helpful webinarsYou’ll get an overview of CCN, access to helpful resources and information about what it’s like to be a provider in CCN. Additional tools and tips are available on our CCN website.

For the month of November, webinars are available every Wednesday:

Ready to grow your practice while honoring Veterans? Join Community Care Network and keep our Veterans’ smiles shining.

COVID-19 by the numbers

The early days of the pandemic brought a tidal wave of changes to the dental industry. Doubtless you felt the impact on your practice’s day-to-day operations. Here’s a high-level view of the way COVID-19 impacted patients, dentists and the dental insurance industry based on claims data, patient surveys and expert opinion.

The rise of teledentistry

During the early stages of the pandemic in the United States, dental offices were closed for weeks. This led to a massive surge in the popularity of teledentistry services.

Synchronous appointments (those with live phone or video interaction between dentists and their patients) saw a 3,000% increase between 2019 and 2020, according to Delta Dental claims during that period. Asynchronous appointments (where patients took photos or videos that were sent to a dentist for later review) saw a 1,000% increase in the same time period.

The use of teledentistry has declined as the pandemic has worn on and dentist offices have reopened, but 2021’s synchronous and asynchronous appointment numbers still remain six times and two times higher than 2019 levels, respectively.

More states also updated their teledentistry laws during the pandemic. Based on Delta Dental’s internal tracking, fourteen states added teledentistry regulations to their laws or expanded existing regulations, including states like Texas, which had previously not allowed the practice of teledentistry at all.

Most importantly, in a phone survey of teledentistry patients during the pandemic, patients expressed widespread satisfaction with their options. This aligns with pre-pandemic expectations that patients had about teledentistry. Of those surveyed before the pandemic, 78% expected to use teledentistry within the next five years, and that working people, children and people with disabilities would benefit the most from teledentistry.

Dentists also had praise for teledentistry, with over 80% of dentists nationwide identifying it as useful for improving access to oral care, increasing specialists’ access to rural and underserved communities and as a time-saving technique. Virtual visits may not replace in-person checkups, but they remain a valuable tool in your arsenal.

Mitigating the costs of COVID

The beginning of the pandemic was marked by profound economic uncertainty as dental practices closed and patients sheltered in place. General practitioner income dropped nearly 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Fortunately, Delta Dental was able to assist with loans, reimbursements for personal protective equipment (PPE) costs and free teledentistry tools that allowed dentists to see patients remotely.

Loans offered in partnership with Provide (formerly Lendeavor) allowed dentists to make practice acquisitions, expand to new locations, purchase commercial real estate and equipment, build out their practices and refinance existing practice and commercial real estate debt. These loans featured favorable terms and conditions, like covered interest for up to 24 months, deferred payments for six months, repayment terms of 10+ years and working capital of up to $200,000.

Delta Dental also offered a supplemental reimbursement for qualifying evaluations and consultations during the second half of 2020. This Return to Care reimbursement led to an additional $80 million for dentists last year to help offset the costs of PPE and enhanced office sterilization.

As another way of helping dentists deal practice safety, two teledentistry options were rolled out: Delta Dental – Virtual Consult and Toothpic.

  • Virtual Consult is a synchronous service where members can use a smart device to have a live video chat with a Delta Dental dentist.
  • Toothpic is an asynchronous service that allows members to take photos of problem areas and get an assessment from a Delta Dental dentist within 24 hours.

As a network dentist, you can join for free to grow your patient base and to assist patients who may have difficulty making it to in-person visits.

How patients used their benefits

The early stages of the pandemic saw a sharp decline in the number of patients going to the dentist’s office. One of the main reasons for the decline was that the sharp economic shutdown led to over 20 million Americans losing their jobs and their dental coverage as well.

This decline in visits to the dentist office had a profound effect on patients’ oral health. In 2019, the most common procedures according to Delta Dental claims data were either diagnostic and preventive care or evaluations for specific issues. This shifted in 2020, when the most common procedures included fillings and root planing, which help address the effects of dental neglect.

In addition to economic hardships, COVID also increased mental and emotional strain. Since the pandemic began, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders has risen from about 10% in 2019 to over 40% in 2021.

These symptoms can manifest in jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Based on Delta Dental claims data, the number of patients requiring occlusal guards to prevent damage from bruxism rose nearly 10% in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Anxiety and depression can also worsen an unhealthy diet or substance abuse, which can lead to oral health issues such as cavities. This may also help to explain the surge in fillings and scaling and root planing procedures in 2020.

Health and safety in the dental office

Even though COVID-19 is spread by exhaled aerosolized droplets, visits to the dentist’s office proved safer than visiting any other medical professional during the pandemic. 

Nearly 100% of dentist offices rapidly adopted enhanced infection control measures like pre-appointment screenings, in-office air purification and antiviral mouthwashes. 

Once available, vaccines saw widespread adoption among dentists, even before state and federal mandates. By fall 2021, over 94% of dentists had received at least one vaccination shot for COVID-19.

Patients also view dentists as valuable sources of information about their overall health in addition to their oral health. Two-thirds of dentists reported receiving questions from patients about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the American Dental Association. 

Dentists rose to the occasion, with over 80% reported feeling prepared for these discussions and 95% who said it was important to have such discussions with patients.

What did we learn from COVID-19?

Here are three key takeaways for you and your practice as you look to the future.

  • Develop contingency and resiliency plans for your practice. Even if we don’t see another global pandemic within our lifetimes, disruptions from natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires remain a possibility. Discussing emergency plans with staff ahead of time can help everyone to feel more secure and prepared when crises arise. Be sure to follow the news, Delta Dental and professional organizations to learn what resources are available to help your practice mitigate the costs of disasters.
  • The right tools and technology can mean the difference between staying open and having to close. Patients will come to your office if they feel safe doing so, but the right resources can empower your more hesitant patients. Invest in effective and visible infection control measures to let patients understand that your practice is taking steps to ensure their well-being. For patients who simply don’t feel safe coming into the office, teledentistry can provide you with another way to stay in touch with your patient base — and even grow it.
  • Make the most of your status as a trusted health professional to your patients.  It can be easy for patients to compartmentalize their oral health from their overall well-being. As a health professional, your opinions and advice are especially important for patients who may be getting information from misinformed or unreliable sources like social media. Advising on wellness and current topics, such as the safety and efficacy of vaccines, can go a long way towards building lasting relationships with your patients and your community. Explore ways to foster trust with patients who may have concerns for their safety, come from a different cultural background than you and your staff or may simply benefit from feeling seen and heard.

CDT 2022 updates have arrived

The American Dental Association’s CDT procedure codes and nomenclature* have been updated for 2022. Changes include 24 new codes, five code deletions and 22 nomenclature and description revisions.

Please review our summary of changes and claims processing policies (PDF) and begin using CDT 2022 codes on claims for procedures provided on and after Jan. 1, 2022.

*CDT coding and nomenclature are the copyright and a trademark of the American Dental Association, all rights reserved.

How to talk with your patients about smoking and vaping

November is the perfect time to think about how you engage with your patients who smoke or vape. On the third Thursday of each November, which falls on November 18 this year, the American Cancer Society sponsors the Great American Smokeout, a day to inspire people to make a plan to quit.

As a dentist, you have a unique opportunity to help your patients quit smoking. The adverse effects of smoking often appear first in the mouth, so you are often the first to see the damage that smoking can cause. Research shows that your intervention can be effective in helping patients decide to quit. Intervention in conjunction with appropriate medications from you is even more effective in promoting successful cessation.

Clearly, you can reach and affect a large number of smokers. But how exactly to talk with your patients about smoking isn’t always so clear.

The 5 A’s of speaking with patients who smoke or vape

If you’re not sure how to speak with patients who smoke, why not start with the 5 A’s? The 5 A’s are an evidence-based smoking intervention approach developed by the U.S. Public Health Service. They’re built on the idea that successful intervention begins with identifying users and then applying appropriate actions based on the patient’s willingness to quit. The Surgeon General has labeled the 5 A’s the gold standard of brief smoking intervention for clinicians.

  • Ask. Ask each patient if he or she uses tobacco. Do so in a routine, friendly way, without judgment or accusation. Keep it simple: “Do you smoke or use any other form of tobacco?” Make it a goal to identify and document tobacco use for all of your patients.
  • Advise. Advise the patient that they should quit. Advice should be clear and strong. As a dental professional, you’re uniquely positioned to give this advice and make it relevant. Motivational information has the greatest impact if you give it in a personalized manner that places it in the context of the patient’s specific diagnosis and health history. You may feel awkward at first or have concerns about sounding too preachy or offending the patient, but smokers often expect their health care providers to discuss smoking with them, and research shows that smokers are more satisfied with providers who bring up the subject. An office visit represents a unique opportunity during which patients may be especially receptive to cessation advice and assistance.
  • Assess. Assess whether or not the smoker is ready and willing to quit. Ask “Do you want to stop smoking?” or “Are you interested in quitting?” If the patient doesn’t seem ready or interested, try helping the patient to identify some relevant risks of smoking and the potential rewards of quitting.
  • Assist. Assist the patient if they indicate they want to quit. Express caring and concern without setting unrealistic expectations. Make sure you have a list of existing tobacco cessation services (such as quit lines and tobacco cessation clinics) on hand. Sometimes your role can be as simple as encouraging the patient to quit and connecting the patient with outside resources. If possible, don’t just recommend services, but help patients enroll while they’re at your practice. Many of your patients may be unaware that you can prescribe cessation medication, so remind them and offer your help where appropriate.
  • Arrange. Arrange to help the patient through their quit attempt by setting up follow-up contact, either by telephone, through your office staff or in person. During subsequent contact, ask the patient how cessation is going. Quitting tobacco is a long-term process. Offer further assistance if needed, reminding patients who are unsuccessful that relapse is common and can be a learning experience on the road to success. Renew your support and consider more intensive treatment where appropriate.

It only takes a few minutes, but when you talk to your patients about quitting, it can make a huge difference in their health.

Upcoming Provider Tools webinars for November

If you’re looking for a better way to manage patients and claims, a great place to start is with Delta Dental’s free webinars this November. Get helpful information about the benefits of taking your practice online.

These classes can help you develop your Provider Tools skills and increase your office productivity by teaching you important skills like how to submit claims online or enroll in direct deposit. Get the top pro tips and answers to the most frequently asked questions about Provider Tools.

In addition to the Provider Tools general overview webinars, on the fourth week of each month, we are now offering a special DeltaCare® USA-focused Provider Tools webinar.

This month’s webinars are:

Thursday, November 4 at 9 am PT/ noon ET: Provider Tools general overview

Wednesday, November 10 at 9 am PT/ noon ET: Provider Tools general overview

Tuesday, November 16 at 11 am PT/ 2 pm ET: Provider Tools general overview

Tuesday, November 23 at 10 am PT/ 1 pm ET: DeltaCare USA Provider Tools overview

If you have a specific question about Provider Tools, you can also schedule a 1:1 video call.

As we continue to expand our webinar offerings, we would love to hear from you. If there are any topics you’d like to us to address, share your thoughts with us at

Halloween photos from Delta Dental dental offices

Delta Dental recently sent out the call for dentists’ offices to share their Halloween office decorations and costumes with us on social media. 

The results are in: You’re the best, and you love the holiday every bit as much as we do!

Pink guard at the door? It couldn’t be anything other than Squid Game. Kudos to Trio Family Dentistry of Redland, CA, for merging everyone’s current Netflix obsession with everyone’s favorite holiday.

Speaking of elaborate, high-stakes competitions, it’s hard not to love the way the staff at Columbia Pediatric Dentistry in Columbia, MD, went all-out with their pumpkin carving and wonderful Alice in Wonderland-themed costumes. Adorable!

And keeping with the great jack-o’-lantern theme, Twin Tiers Dental of Elmira, NY, shared these images; one with a menacing reminder to floss and another with — what else — a terrifying dentist holding an extracted tooth. Love it!

If your office is decorating or dressing up this Halloween, don’t forget to tag Delta Dental Ins on social media when you share your photos. If you tag us by the end of the day, Friday, October 29, we’ll send you a sweet surprise! 

To see more great Halloween photos from Delta Dental dentists, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn at Delta Dental Ins. 

And from everyone at Delta Dental, have a safe and happy Halloween!

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