Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Tag: practice (Page 1 of 2)

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Erin Bang-Crooks

Dr. Erin Bang-Crooks, DDS, knew she wanted to work in the dental industry since she was just a teenager. Passionate about creating meaningful relationships, Dr. Bang-Crooks says that it was the promise of getting to know her patients while maintaining a solid work/life balance that sold her on the idea of being a dentist.

After graduating from Columbia University and a residency in New York City, she sought out a balance between the hustle of New York City and her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. She landed in Alpharetta, Georgia and opened a small boutique practice called Ivy Dentistry — a nod to her Ivy League education.

Now with two decades of experience in dentistry, Dr. Bang-Crooks says it’s still those same values of creating and maintaining relationships that keep her going — and that’s why she’s our May Dental Health Partner of the Month!

When did you decide that you wanted to be a dentist and why?

I’ve always liked the idea of the health care field and being able to help patients, but it actually started during high school when a rep from dental school came by and gave us a talk about the shortage of women dentists back then. They talked about the flexibility of hours and balancing your life and career.

What do you love about being a dentist?

I love my patients and the interactions and relationships. I like the fact that I’m helpful in educating them about dentistry and understanding the importance of it. I’m happy being a general dentist because I get to see them more often than I would as a specialist.

Generally, dentistry allows you to have a relationship with patients over a long period of time. There are not many jobs where you have that kind of privilege. I get to see my patients every six months over many years. It’s the best watching young patients grow up right before your eyes. That’s how you really know you’re getting older!

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out?

It’s helpful if you know early on what you want to do, but if you don’t, just keep exploring different things until you figure that out. Once you’re committed, just go for it and give it 100%. You’ll just sort of become your authentic self. You can figure out who you are through that.

Most importantly, balance your life. I think if you do too much of anything you can lose sight of other priorities, responsibilities or interests, and it sort of takes over. The challenge in life is to have a nice balance with family, career, friends, relationships. In the end, that’s what it’s about: relationships.

How do you do stay balanced?

It’s a constant struggle. Being a working mom, wife, sister, friend. We wear many hats. Dental health is important, but your overall health is really important. If you don’t have your health, everything is harder to manage. I like staying fit and having a healthy attitude towards life.

We all expire. If you think about that, it puts a lot of things in perspective. When we have hard times, we have to remember that we’re all here and we all have an expiration date, so try to make the best of it. If you think about things that way, that problem that you have might not feel so gigantic. Make the best of it every day.

Do you have any funny stories from the dental office?

It’s HIPAA protected, so what happens in Dr. Bang’s office stays here. My lips are sealed. I have plenty of funny stories, but I can’t tell you.

What are the biggest challenges in the industry?

I think the nuanced language in insurance can be confusing to patients. It can be very tricky. I’d like to see it simplified as much as possible so that anyone could understand it.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’d love to know more about the AAPI figures that you admire. Who are the people who have motivated you in your life and career? How do you use what they taught you?

For me, it’s just family, especially my father who passed away many years ago. He’s always been an inspiration to me. My brothers and I try to emulate his values. I guess that’s how you know what’s important. Even if someone passes away, they still can have influence over you. 

He was a very simple man. He was the strong silent type and didn’t say much. It was always shown through actions. He valued family and friends and wasn’t pretentious. He was a very moral person, and it was a good foundation for our family.

He walked a lot, too. He walked every day, and now I find myself doing that. It’s weird how it just subtly becomes part of you. I find myself doing a lot of the things he used to do. He was a great dad.

What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies?

I’m into fitness and I like being healthy. I actually have a very inspirational personal trainer named James, who I’ve worked with for about two years and want to give a shout out to. In the beginning, I really hated the strength training part, but I’m beginning to embrace it more.

Personal training comes with a lot of life lessons. It’s not that I enjoy the process, but once you do it you feel stronger and you feel proud because you made it through. You kind of just endure. You can apply that towards life, in a lot of ways. It can be intimidating, but the more you practice and do it, the more you see the value in it.

In some ways, I hope that patients feel that way about dentistry. They can be very intimidated about coming in — they don’t want to be here. But once they get to that point where they see the value, the light switch goes off. These days, everything is quick and easy, but I’m trying to preserve those relationships with my patients. I try to treat them like family and help them relax and slow down a bit.

Now that COVID restrictions are beginning to change across the country, what are you looking forward to this year?

It’s been a difficult time, but at the same time I think it helps you self-reflect. I think this true for a lot of people. It makes you prioritize things a little better. It’s really about relationships. That’s what was lacking during COVID. We physically couldn’t be near anybody. When you’re deprived of something, you realize how much you appreciate it.

I really appreciate the simple things in life. I walk more. I take my time sipping my coffee a little longer. I’m looking forward to having a deeper relationship with the people around me and diving in to make them more meaningful. It starts with working with the people who are already around you.

Positioned for success: workplace ergonomics in the dental office

Imagine you’re in the middle of a clinical procedure. Are your neck and upper back straining as you try to get a better view? Are your hands and wrists clenched and tense? Are your legs dangling or crossed? If you answered “yes,” you’re not alone.

Many people struggle to maintain good posture throughout the day. Unfortunately, bad posture can contribute to the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis and muscle strain. For dentists and other dental professionals, MSDs are the leading cause for early retirement. At least 62% of dentists report one musculoskeletal complaint, with the most prevalent areas of pain being in the lower back and neck.

The good news is that you don’t need to accept pain as a part of your job. With proper ergonomics, you can identify and address work-related pain.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is a philosophy that promotes designing workplaces to fit human needs so workers don’t need to strain to perform their jobs. The goal is to make you more efficient without compromising your safety. You can do this by maintaining a neutral position as much as possible and limiting tasks that cause strain. That means setting up workstations so everything you need is in reach or using special equipment, like footrests, to maintain a 90-degree bend in the knee.

Equipment can’t do all the work, though. State-of-the-art tools and gadgets should be paired with good posture to prevent potential MSDs. Practicing good posture is also the cheapest and quickest way to begin an ergonomic program.

What does good posture look like?

Unfortunately, careers in oral health are rife with opportunities to slouch and strain. To prevent MSDs, take note of these tips for good posture.

  • Spinal alignment. Maintain an erect, neutral spine instead of bending forward or leaning over the patient.
  • Proximity. Move your stool as close as possible to the patient’s head to minimize the need to overextend your arms or back.
  • Position. Keep your feet flat on the floor or the footrest of your stool. Adjust your stool height so your thighs slope slightly downward. Sit, rather than stand, for all clinical procedures. Hold your wrists in a neutral position and minimize wrist movement.
  • Weight distribution. Evenly distribute your weight in a tripod pattern, through each foot on the floor and your stool.
  • Equipment. Consider using a loupe to minimize the need to perch on the edge of your stool to see. If your overhead light is too dim or casts too many shadows, consider a head-mounted light as an alternative. Avoid gripping instruments tightly.
  • Stretching. When possible, take 10 minutes to get up and stretch your spine, arms and legs. Stretching during and after work can help relax strained muscles.
  • Exercise. Some poor posture habits begin with a weak core. Your core muscles act as a brace to your lower back when engaged, but using them all day can be exhausting. Train your core to make it easier to maintain good posture.

With tight schedules and productivity quotas, it can be difficult to prioritize time-consuming tasks like re-positioning patients. If you can’t eliminate strain, reducing it is still helpful. One easy way to reduce strain is to have your patients scoot to the end of the headrest once the chair is reclined. Eliminating those few inches between the top of their head and the top of the headrest shrinks the space for you to lean over.

The ergonomic office

For practice owners, investing in ergonomic training and supporting healthy practices has long-term benefits like preventing unwanted retirement, reducing canceled appointments and lessening the need for disability leave.

Ultimately, though, these suggestions are just the beginning. Most dental tools were developed with an average male dentist in mind, which may put people with smaller builds at a disadvantage. With ergonomics, there isn’t one solution to address every problem. You need to consider your and your team’s individual needs.

When implementing changes, remember to include the whole office. Your practice manager and front desk assistants also have ergonomic needs like monitor positioning and desk height. Encourage your team to communicate when they’re struggling with strain so that issues can be addressed early on. Approve time off to visit the doctor when needed. 

Even small changes can have a huge impact towards becoming an ergonomically healthy practice.

Spotlight: Travis Tramel, RDHAP

Travis Tramel, Ph.D, MA, RDHAP didn’t always know what he wanted to be. What he did know, however, was that whatever he ended up doing would be rooted in service. He’s spent his life serving others, so when he found a career where he could focus on just that, he knew it was his calling.

Becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice (RDHAP) requires special training that focuses on prevention. RDHAPs provide services such as cleanings, sealants and screenings to patients in remote locations or limited mobility. Tramel saw this path as an opportunity to educate and enhance health in his community.

As the CEO and founder of GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation, a mobile dental hygiene practice in Riverside, California, Tramel works with children of all backgrounds to preach the importance of good oral health and ensure that his community is off to the right start. Now 21 years into his career, he says the same things still make him smile: empowering people with the knowledge and tools they need to better their lives.

What made you want to be a Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice?

My story is different and crazy. Growing up, you don’t know the different levels of health care staff. You just go to the dental office and get your teeth cleaned. It wasn’t until a recruiter came from Loma Linda, California to our undergrad school in Alabama — Oakwood College, at that time. They told us that in dentistry, you could be a dentist or you could be a dental hygienist.

Everybody wanted to be a dentist because they fix root canals and they fix broken teeth. The recruiter got up and said, “I’m a hygienist and I fix the whole body. I’m the bacteria stopper. I stop things in their tracks before they do damage to something else.” That was a different way of looking at things.

I thought that preventive maintenance was neat. I like being at a point where I could keep you from getting into trouble. I realized that if I could help people by being preventive, I can help them in the long run.

How did GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation come to be?

When you’re a hygienist, you spend a lot of time telling people, “You need to floss more. You’ve got a 4-millimeter pocket over here. Your gums are still bleeding.” You start wondering if you’re being effective.

I was getting to the point where patients were saying, “I don’t want the education on it. Just clean my teeth and let me go.” When you begin to get those answers, you ask yourself if you’re being heard and if your job is still needed. When you hear that day in and day out, you start burning out. 

I talked to a friend of mine about if after 15 years if I should change careers. That’s when she said, “Why don’t we become mobile hygienists?” She had already done the research. We went up to San Francisco to do a program and my eyes were opened to the actual needs of dentistry, especially hygiene, in the public health sector. 

My practice’s name, GeriSmiles, actually came from “geriatric smiles.” When you look at our aging population, no one is there to help them prevent [dental disease]. When they’re in nursing homes and assisted living, they’re usually in that stage where they’re about to lose it all. You’re trying to fix something that’s already broken. So I started looking at how we can prevent issues that can help them going longer. I was going to nursing homes and hospice homes, but you can only see about eight patients a day.

When it comes to being preventive, we realized that we wanted to do more work with kids. Sometimes parents don’t have time to take off of work to take their kids to a 10-minute cleaning. That’s when GeriSmiles went from “geriatric” to “Dr. Geri.”

In 2017, I went into the school system. Now I focus on eight school districts with our mobile dental programs where we work with K-12. Whoever wants a cleaning gets it, because I believe that if we can help the kids and help the parents understand that a five-minute cleaning can save them. We can find issues and still keep kids in school.

What do you love about your career?

I love that I teach the public about oral health care. I get to meet different people every day and it allows me to be community-minded.

As my own boss, I get to educate the public and go to city council and school board meetings. But, I also don’t look at myself like anybody’s boss. We’re equals. I just sign the paychecks. No work is underneath me, from assisting to billing to hygiene work. All my staff will tell you that I’m in the trenches with them. I help them set up, and I help them break down. We are for the public and we’re family.

What does service mean to you?

Service to me is always helping those who need it most. Even though you think you may not need it, take it. If the service is being offered, utilize it. When we give up ourselves to others, we get blessed by just blessing them. My patients are uninsured or on Medi-Cal — those who can’t pay me. To see the smiles on their faces and help them, it means the world to me.

My family volunteered every weekend growing up. My mother ran soup kitchens and would feed anywhere between 200 and 300 people every Sunday morning. If you were hurting, if you needed clothes, she’d take them off her back and give them to you. Service is in my blood.

My mother was in education and my father worked for the State of Georgia. Sometimes you look at your own situation and you know that you don’t have a silver spoon either, but later you realize that you were helping those who really needed help. Give yourself in order to bless someone else. To me, that’s what dentistry is all about. Patients come to you because they need something or are in pain. In my hands, I have the gift of hygiene and the gift of service. I can always use those to help somebody when they’re down low.

How did COVID-19 affect your work?

On March 5, 2020, I got notified that outside providers were no longer needed on school campuses. I got emails saying, “Hey, we don’t know where this is going to go, but at least for the next two months, there will be no dental services on our campus.”

It was like a dagger that just pierced my heart. I’m looking at my staff of 20 and thinking, “What do we do for paychecks? What do we do for bills?” Your head is spinning, as a CEO.

We used our savings and got a loan, because I wanted to make sure my staff’s households were not interrupted. I helped them through the next two months, until unemployment kicked in. We were blessed to not have to suffer, but they’re my family. They’ve been with me since Day One. They never leave me hanging and it wasn’t time for me to leave them hanging — when we needed each other the most.

Luckily, some of the private schools were still meeting, so we were able to serve them. Preschoolers need to be screened within 45 days of starting school, as well. Since they’re virtual, it gave me the idea to use Zoom to do online screenings until the schools reopen and we can return.

Tell us about a time that made you feel especially proud of your work.

I have a special dental cellphone for patients to call and at 9 pm one night, my phone goes off. I don’t normally have it on that late, but I answered it and they said, “Hi, you were at this school today.” I got nervous that something bad had happened, but she said, “I’m calling to thank you. I don’t know what you said to my son today, but when I gave my son his after-school snack, he said, ‘Mom, I no longer want to eat those. The dentist told me they are bad for my teeth and could cause a cavity.’ I gave him a granola bar instead and when we got home, he ran to the bathroom and pulls out the toothbrush packet he got and brushes his teeth. Then he took the toothbrush and ran to his room. When I asked him why, he said, ‘This is my special toothbrush, and I don’t have to share it!’”

For her son to make those changes immediately made her say, “I am impressed with your program. Please keep doing what you’re doing.”

Now when I’m at the schools, I ask if the kids have brothers or sisters and I give them kits for their family members, as well. You never know who’s sharing or who’s suffering. We are 100% self-funded. If they have insurance, we bill. If they don’t, we still treat them. We treat all kids equal.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to travel and see the world. I want my kids, who are 17 and 13, to see things that I didn’t see growing up… We like international travel and seeing different cultures and how they live. We don’t do touristy things. We like to go into the deep country and really learn about the culture.

We love hiking, cycling, scuba diving, touring and educating. It’s all fun to me!

What’s the best thing you watched in recent memory?

The best thing I watched? Well, you can look at COVID two ways: a downfall or a blessing, because it made you cherish life more. Especially your loved ones. It caused us to sit down and talk to our family members, love them and respect the time we have together. It made us cherish the moment we have now. It’s an opportunity to grow and to change. I think that’s the best thing I watched.

Congratulations to Travis Tramel on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! You can learn more about his mobile practice on the GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation website.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Amanda Rafi

Going to the dentist isn’t everyone’s favorite errand, but as we all know, a good experience can make all the difference. For dentists like Dr. Amanda Rafi, a dentist has the power to be a fixer, a friend and even an inspiration — and that’s why she’s our Dental Health Partner of the Month.

Dr. Rafi owns and operates three different practices alongside her husband in Orange County and Riverside, California, as well as in her hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona. She says she owes it all to her own formative experiences with going to the dentist.

After graduating with honors from the University of Arizona and earning her Master of Public Health at A.T. Still University, she obtained her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. It was during this time that she met her now-husband and business partner, Dr. Ryan Baker. After graduation, the two set off to his home state to build a successful and flourishing practice out of Tustin, California, where she specializes in cosmetic and family dentistry.

What made you want to become a dentist?

When I was younger, about 12, I wanted to be an orthodontist because I just had gotten braces and I really thought it was so interesting and creative. I got interested in it from there, and then I got into dental school and I realized that I really like all aspects of dentistry. So, I didn’t specialize — I focused on cosmetics and things like that, but I love to do it all! I do crowns, bridges and root canals, and all of it’s really fun to me.

What do you love about being a dentist?

Just helping people. I think the biggest thing is making sure that people feel comfortable. When they come to the dentist, people tend to feel very uncomfortable. I don’t know if a childhood experience or what really contributed to that, but when they get here I try to make them feel as at home as possible and make sure that they leave with a smile at the end of the day. 

I think communication is a big part of that, and so is making eye contact. Just talking to them like a normal person and not using big dental terminology is a big thing. I noticed when I shadowed other dentists that they used big words that someone who didn’t go to dental school probably wouldn’t understand. That makes people more uneasy because they don’t know what it is.

I always try to show patients the x-ray or take a picture inside their mouth and put it on the big screen to show them. Being visual myself, I think it’s beneficial for people to see it that way.

What’s the biggest challenge of running your own practice?

It’s really hard making sure that all 10 employees are on the same page and that we’ re a team always. [Employees] can either make the practice or break it. My biggest challenge is just making sure that we’re always moving in the right direction.

How has the pandemic affected your practice?

COVID completely changed our practice. When COVID hit back in March, we had to shut down for two months and that was a big hit on our business. Even when we opened back up again in May, people were scared to come back.

We had to convey to everyone that we’re taking the same precautions as a hospital. We have the same N95 masks, the face shields, the goggles, the gloves and we’re keeping everyone six feet apart and taking their temperatures before they come in. Everyone’s really cautious with gloves and masks and everything — that’s just normal [for dentists].

We’re trying to make people as comfortable as we can with the whole situation, but it was hard to get patients to come back, to tell you the truth. People were scared to go anywhere. 

I’m hoping it gets better. More and more people will be getting vaccinated and we’ll still keep working through it to make sure that when patients come in we’re able to meet their needs.

Tell us a little about how you stay connected to the community.

Previous to the pandemic, we could do a lot more volunteer work. We do anything we can and always try to stay involved in the community. There have been golf tournaments and charity work. We also stay involved in our city council and sponsor a baseball team.

I’ve been doing community work since before dental school. Giving back has always interested me, but now we’re fortunate enough to have what we have, so giving back is really important to me. The whole practice is involved. We do everything together. 

What have your hobbies been like in this past year?

We got a dog during quarantine! He’s a cute little Maltipoo, and he’s that brown cinnamon color like a little teddy bear. His name is Charlie and he’s just been so much fun this whole time. He really lights things up! He just turned one, so he’s still kind of a puppy.

Also, I’m honestly really into 90 Day Fiancé. It’s a reality show and it’s really good. I’ve been binge watching it. There’s so many different seasons, but I’m almost caught up. It’s nice to be away from our reality for a little bit!

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you were first starting your career?

I would say to always try to be confident and just remember to do the right thing. If you always do everything by the book and make sure that you’re doing everything the right way, it will always work out. 

In honor of Women’s History Month, can you tell us about a woman in your life who has inspired you?

My mom always showed me how hard she worked supporting our family and keeping us all together. She showed me that family comes first and that you can work hard and play hard. She’s an engineer who worked for Motorola, and she’s built a lot of our homes and some shopping centers. She even built the house that we grew up in! Lots to look up to there.

What are your goals for the future?

Opening more practices! We’re hoping the next one will be in Arizona. My whole family is still out there, and we’re usually there every other week. My family has always been there supporting me and my husband, too. I’m very grateful for everything I have.

Congratulations to Dr. Rafi on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! You can learn more about her and her practices on her website and on Facebook.

Elevating patient care: A look ahead with Delta Dental’s chief dental officer

Dr. Daniel Croley headshot
Delta Dental Chief Dental Officer Dr. Daniel Croley

When he was receiving a dental cleaning many years ago, Dr. Daniel Croley had a conversation that changed the course of his life and career. At the time, he was a college student with a pre-med major headed toward medical school, but a serious talk with his dentist opened his eyes to a new path.

After shadowing the dentist for a few weeks to learn about his practice, Dr. Croley realized that the profession would be a great fit.

“Throughout my life, I’ve been interested in helping people, and making a meaningful impact,” he said. “I liked the patient interaction, and dentistry’s focus on prevention spoke to me.”

While earning a B.S. degree in zoology and a DMD degree at the University of Kentucky, he gained practical experience working in hospitals, where he “fell in love with patient care” while assisting patients with disabilities or medical conditions requiring stronger oversight.

Today, Dr. Croley serves as Delta Dental’s chief dental officer. In his new role, he builds on his years in private practice to inform his work overseeing Delta Dental’s dentist networks.

From private practice to dental insurance

After earning his DMD, Dr. Croley moved to Chicago and managed two dental practices for eight years. Although he loved the work, he suffered a severe shoulder injury, related to repetitive strain, that caused him to seek care from several specialists.

The risk to his health was too great, and it was an emotional decision to leave practice. He began looking for a new position that would allow him to use his knowledge and skill “in a meaningful way to help people get healthy.”

Dr. Croley worked for seven years for a third-party administration company, which eventually became Humana. He then received a call from PMI, an HMO subsidiary of Delta Dental of California, and he accepted a position to manage its dental networks.

“I found my way to the dental benefit world and it was a fit for sure,” he said. “When I was in practice, I helped one person at a time, and now I could influence many more people through my work overseeing quality delivery of care across many providers.”

Shaping Delta Dental’s care and vision

After a brief period working for the American Dental Association, Dr. Croley began his role as vice president of network development at Delta Dental.

“Having worked for other insurance companies, I knew Delta Dental to be the best in class,” he said, “and this is continually confirmed. This is a great, caring compassionate company.”

As vice president of network development, he emphasized the goal Delta Dental shares with dentists: bringing health to our communities. He described a partnership of trust that supports dentists as business owners, healers and community members.

Improving the quality of dental care

Now, as chief dental officer, Dr. Croley has another goal: improving the quality oral health care that patients receive.

“When you think about what patients want,” he said, “it’s access, affordability and quality.”

While he was serving as director of informatics at the ADA, Dr. Croley made two significant observations: (1) the value of data and using data to inform decision-making, and (2) the shared focus of dentists and dental plans — the patient.

Combining these ideas fits into Dr. Croley’s plans as chief dental officer. Defining quality is the first step in the process, he said, and then identifying objective measurements against expected outcomes.

”We will be building transparency around the quality of care that dentists deliver to patients,” he emphasized.

To do this, Delta Dental will be helping to facilitate dentists’ understanding of what quality is and empower them to achieve it in their interactions with, and services to, patients.

“I believe that our focus on quality, and the transparency of that, both internally and externally, will enhance the patient experience and the quality of care that our customers receive from our providers. This will elevate all of us to take exceptional care of our customers.”


Today’s practice challenges for dentists

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on dental practices. As dentists face ever-changing conditions in 2021, Dr. Croley sees planning as a key to the return to pre-COVID-19 patient volumes and practice revenue.

 “COVID has been hard on dentists, and it’s been harder in some states, like California and New York,” he pointed out. “Patient traffic is down in dental offices, both because some people are afraid of catching the virus and so many have lost their jobs.”

However, patient volumes nationally have increased to an estimated 78% of their pre-COVID-19 level, according to an ADA poll taken Dec. 14, 2020. Dentists have applied infection control, sanitization and sterilization measures in their practices all along, Dr. Croley observed. The key, he said, is to “just make sure their patients feel safe to come back into care.  People cannot put off their preventive and restorative dental care.”

In 2020, Delta Dental supported dentists through a temporary compensation increase for certain procedures and facilitated financial assistance through low-cost or no-cost loans.

While the pandemic has increased costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and caused difficulty with staging and scheduling, Dr. Croley advises dental offices to adjust their business practices to the new conditions, such as changing their hours of operation.

“Dentistry is both a business and a clinical profession,” he said. “We want to help practices remain stable in the market.”

A shared purpose

Through participation in Delta Dental’s networks, which are the largest in the nation, dentists can attract patients, and patients covered under Delta Dental plans can access quality care.

Ultimately, Dr. Croley said, “Delta Dental and dentists share a fundamental purpose: improving health through affordable, quality care.”

How to talk to patients about returning to your office

As a dentist, you know that regular office visits are essential for your patients’ oral health, but your patients might have questions and concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Dental Association, 98% of dental practices are open for business, but less than 50% are seeing the same number of patients as before the pandemic.

The ADA has also found that most people are ready to return to their dentist’s office (although some of them may need assurances that they’ll be safe) even if there are COVID-19 cases locally, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADA are the two most trusted sources of information about whether or not it’s safe to go to the dentist. With all of that in mind, here are some tips on how to get patients back in the office, reassure them of their safety and keep them coming back.

1. Put new safety procedures and practices in place

Reassuring your patients of their safety is an essential first step in encouraging them to return. Dentists’ offices have long been kept meticulously clean to prevent the spread of bloodborne illnesses. The spread of COVID-19, though, has required new practices to address potential infection through saliva droplets. Highlighting these new practices is an excellent opportunity to make your patients feel safer.

For example, these practices may be worth implementing:

  • Have patients wait for their appointments inside their cars rather than inside your waiting room, even if you have the space for them to socially distance.
  • Put up a clear plastic screen between the front desk and the waiting area. This helps to prevent a stray cough or sneeze from spreading saliva droplets when patients are checking in or paying their bill.
  • Install equipment that helps remove germs from the office, such as medical-grade air purifiers.
  • Check patients’ temperature with an infrared thermometer upon their arrival. You’ll want to use a thermometer especially made for use as a wellness device (infrared thermometers that aren’t explicitly made for medical use may be inaccurate when used on the human body.)
  • Have patients do their part, too, such as by performing a peroxide rinse before getting into the chair.

2. Effectively communicate with and listen to your patients

One of the biggest contributors to feelings of fear and uncertainty is a lack of reliable information from a trusted source. When it comes to their oral health, you are your patients’ primary subject matter expert. Explain not just what changes you’re instituting at the office to keep patients safe, but also why you’re making those changes and how they keep patients safe.

It’s important to create opportunities to interact with your patients so that you can keep them informed of the latest changes and persuade them to return when they’re ready. The ADA has found that patients prefer to be communicated with via email, text and phone, in that order.

If you’re using software to communicate with your patients via email or text, let them know:

  • Your office is open for business
  • You’re following new procedures to ensure everyone’s safety
  • You’re available to talk if they have questions or concerns (offering teledentistry appointments is a great way to interact directly with your patients!)

If you’d rather emphasize a human touch, you could have office staff directly call your patients to remind them not to forget check-ups and see if there’s anything your office can do for them.

Also, don’t forget to be an active listener. If you ask your patients their concerns, make sure you indicate that you’re listening attentively and taking their words under consideration.

3. Think outside the box

Finally, when it comes to persuading patients to return and attracting new patients, don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Encourage patients to leave reviews and feedback on social media. A positive review and a description of safety protocols on Yelp or Google can go a long way towards assuring would-be patients that your office is a safe environment.

Similarly, consider updating your practice’s website if you haven’t done so recently. Adding customer testimonials is a good idea, and you can also add photos that highlight changes throughout your office. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you could also create a video walkthrough of your practice to serve as a virtual tour of the office! Or, add videos that highlight new safety practices and equipment you’ve implemented, such as peroxide rinses or medical-grade air purifiers.

We also suggest updating your current office hours in Provider Tools to help your patients access care in your office. Patients often use the dentist directory when looking for contact information, so making sure that your information is up to date and that it matches the info available in other locations (such as your website or Yelp) can help eliminate confusion. Fortunately, logging in to your profile in our Provider Tools and update your office hours is simple!

The ADA’s Health Policy Institute has also found that nearly three out of four people who visited the dentist in 2019 would be comfortable returning right now. Another 11% would be willing to return to the dentist if they had some kind of assurance that their visit would be safe while the remaining 15% are waiting for a vaccine. That means that if you’re seeing fewer than 85% of the patients you were before the pandemic, you might be able to bring more back to your practice. Follow the steps above, and you might get the extra bump in business you need to make the new normal a little more like the old one.

« Older posts

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑