Dentist blog from Delta Dental

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Dentists and hearing loss

Dentist offices often try to bring a level of comfort and relaxation to patients, with easy-listening music playing in the background. But in reality, your office is never quiet. Throughout the day, you and your staff are using ultrasonic scalers, high-speed drills, air compressors and instrument cleaners in addition to other tools.

That noise can take its toll on your hearing. Noise levels in a dentist’s office routinely reach 90 decibels, with some machines topping 100 dB. Noises above 70 dB over a long period may damage your hearing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result, dentists are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss as the general population, and 21% of dental professionals have some type of hearing-related condition.

Learn the signs of hearing loss

So what can you do to avoid hearing loss? Start by establishing a baseline for your hearing. Get your hearing checked by an audiologist, and then periodically get it re-tested to see if there are any changes.

Hearing loss is irreversible but preventable. Learn how to recognize the symptoms of hearing loss, which include:

  • Trouble understanding conversations
  • Not being able to hear people when there is background noise
  • Keeping the radio or TV at a high level
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Complaining that others don’t speak clearly

Protecting your ears in the office

You can take steps to reduce the amount of noise that gets into your ears. Some dentists and hygienists wear earplugs, but this can get in the way of good communication with your patient.

“Going to the dentist is such a vulnerable experience for patients,” said Dr. Jessica Buehler, Delta Dental’s director of dental affairs. “Dentists need to stay in touch with them, and it’s very hard to maintain that level of communication with earplugs in. They need to be able to hear physical responses.”

Luckily, technology is catching up. New earpieces with custom electronic circuitry compress sound when it reaches dangerous levels. When the noise decreases, it allows normal sounds back into the ear. These can cost anywhere from $35 to $600, depending on the technology and the noise compression you want to achieve.

Reducing the noise in your office can also help. Keeping your tools in good repair can lower the volume of sound they emit. You can also upgrade your cleaning and drilling equipment to the latest technology, which tends to be less noisy. Adding acoustic treatments to the walls of your room can help absorb the sound. Also, consider adding doors and soundproofing walls in rooms where the noise gets high, especially those that have your cleaning equipment and are generally empty.

You can also try to scale teeth manually instead of using the ultrasound scaler, one of the biggest culprits of noise in the office. But manual scaling can take a toll on your hands and wrists, especially if you have multiple clients in a day.

It’s impossible to get away from all noise while you’re in the office, but reducing your exposure to the louder sounds will help preserve your hearing and prevent permanent damage in the future.

5 tips for ergonomics in the operatory from Dr. Daniel Croley

Before he moved to the world of dental insurance, Dr. Daniel Croley, Chief Dental Officer at Delta Dental, managed two practices in Chicago. While managing those practices he began to suffer from repetitive strain in one shoulder and this strain developed into a severe shoulder injury. After eight years of practice, he made the difficult decision to look for a new position that would leverage his knowledge without being a risk to his health.

Dr. Daniel Croley
Dr. Daniel Croley

Even with the help of specialists, the risk of permanent injury as a dental professional is high, and it’s not uncommon for dentists or hygienists to experience musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to poor posture. In fact, at least 62% of dentists report having at least one complaint of pain. MSDs are also the leading cause for early retirement for dental professionals.

The good news is that you don’t need to accept pain as a part of your job. Here are Dr. Croley’s tips to reduce the risk of injury when you practice.

1. Position yourself

With packed schedules and deadlines, taking any additional time to properly position yourself may be easy to overlook. But overlooking your positioning time after time will take a toll on your body at some point. When you sit down with a patient, remember to:

  • Move your stool as close as possible to your patient’s head so that you don’t overextend your arms or back.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor or the footrest of your stool.
  • Adjust your stool height so your thighs slope slightly downward.
  • Hold your wrists in a neutral position and minimize wrist movement.
  • Maintain an erect, neutral spine instead of bending forward or leaning over your patient.
  • Distribute your weight evenly in a tripod pattern, between your two feet on the floor and your stool.

2. Position the patient

The position of your patient is just as important as your own position.

  • Recline the patient so your working area is at or just above your elbow level. If you can’t get an ideal position, adjust your stool height accordingly.
  • Have the patient move to the very end of the headrest with no space at the top.
  • Ask patients to tilt their head as needed to maintain your line of sight instead of leaning.

3. Engage your core

The goal of engaging your core is to use the muscles around your mid-section to act as a brace for your upper body and spine. Whether you’re sitting down to do a procedure or standing for long periods, that support protects the weaker muscles of your upper body from the strain it takes to lean over.

Some people interpret “engage” to mean “suck in,” which doesn’t provide your body any support. Instead of sucking in, think of the way your muscles tighten before you laugh or cough. That tightening is an engaged core.

Engaging your core muscles all day can be exhausting, especially if you’re not in the habit of doing it. Consider training your core muscles to make it easier to maintain good posture for longer.

4. Use 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.

5. Stretch and exercise

Stretch to release strain. 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.

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.

With very busy personal schedules and maintaining the production required to maintain a dental practice, it can be difficult to prioritize time-consuming tasks like ergonomic evaluations and training.  Sometimes you just need to get into non-ideal physical positions to gain the required access.  You can’t eliminate all physical strain, reducing it is still helpful. Even small changes can have a huge impact towards becoming an ergonomically healthy practice.

Need a vacation? 3 tips to keep in mind

If you’ve ever been deep into a root canal procedure and your mind drifts to the shores of Maui or the streets of Paris, you know you’re overdue for a vacation. And as summer approaches, those daydreams are just going to get worse.

But if you’re a solo practitioner — and three out of four dentists are, according to the American Dental Association — you know that if you’re on vacation, the money stops coming in. So what do you do? Work until you burn out?

Don’t give up on the idea of taking time off. Vacations are good for your mental health, and you need them to stay productive and keep your practice going. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make sure your practice doesn’t suffer because of some time off.

1. Find temporary workers

One thing to do during this time is to get temporary help. Some staffing agencies offer locum tenens dentists who can fill in for you while you’re gone. They’re available to work during maternity leave, vacations and illnesses and can work anywhere from a week or two to months or even years.

If you’ve been thinking of expanding your practice, a locum tenens dentist could audition for the role and become a temp-to-perm role for you. They can also help out during busy times, relieving some stress that you might be experiencing.

If you do get a temporary dentist to fill in for you, please let us know so there won’t be any issues with claims being submitted.

Don’t forget about your hygienists and support staff. They take vacations as well, but you can hire temporary workers to take their place during their time off.

2. Prepare early for your vacation

Not interested in someone taking your place? Then you’ll have to shut down for the duration of your vacation. Schedule your vacation at least six months in advance, because your staff will be making six-month appointments for patients who have just had a cleaning. Mark the time off on your appointment calendar so no patients can accidentally schedule anything while you’re gone.

Send out letters and emails to all your patients in advance, and make sure you announce on your website and on social media that the office will be closed. Prepare your voicemail to reflect the closure when you’re ready to leave.

Encourage your patients to schedule any complicated procedures well ahead of your vacation so they won’t need to contact you while on vacation if they need a follow-up visit.

3. Take mini-vacations

If you just can’t afford to take two weeks off at a time, treat yourself to some long weekends. Take the Friday off before Memorial Day for a fantastic four-day weekend, or take a few extra days around the holiday season to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. It may not be Maui or Paris, but it’ll do wonders for your mental health.

Let us know when there are changes at your practice

Running a practice can be hectic, and it’s easy for details to slip through the crack. However, it’s essential to let us know about changes like a retirement, a practice name change or new dentists on staff.

What changes does Delta Dental need to know about?

Per the terms of your contract, please make sure to notify Delta Dental of any changes to the following information, ideally 30 days prior to the change if possible:

  • New practice name
  • New office location or primary phone number
  • Change of address
  • Tax ID changes (your W-9 is required for us to process any tax ID changes)
  • Sale or closure of practice
  • Dentists joining or leaving a practice location (contact us to request an application for network participation)

How do I let Delta Dental know about these changes?

Forms for reporting these changes are available at our website. Once you’ve submitted the necessary forms, we may contact you to verify the information before we update our records.

What else do I need to know?

Once you’ve submitted an administrative form, you generally don’t have to take any extra steps. However, there are a few things to know about the process.

  • It takes about four weeks processing time from the date we receive your form for the changes to be reflected in our system. You’ll receive confirmation of the effective date from the Provider File Maintenance department.
  • Until our systems are updated, claims will continue to be processed with the information on record.
  • The processing time for dentists in Maryland is no more than 15 working days after we receive your administrative form.

Thank you for helping us keep our records up to date! We’re proud to be your partners in ensuring that your patients get great care and that you get paid quickly and effortlessly for the work you do.

A guide to screening patients for oral cancer

If you take five minutes during an oral exam to check a patient for oral cancer, you could save a life.

In 2021, some 53,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. This number has steadily risen over the last decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the risk even more.

A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that tobacco and alcohol use has risen during the pandemic. Weight gain, poor diet and oral hygiene and a lack of treatment over the past two years have also increased the risk.

If you aren’t already screening your patients, now’s a good time to start. As with most cancers, early detection is a key to survival. If oral cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 85%.

Who’s at risk for oral cancer?

Oral cancer can include cancers in the gums, tongue and back of the throat. It occurs most often in people over the age of 40. Risk factors for oral cancer include tobacco and alcohol use, prolonged exposure to the sun and infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). More men than women are diagnosed with it.

What are the symptoms of oral cancer?

The best way to diagnose oral cancer is by performing a quick but thorough screening as part of a patient’s regular exam. Look for:

  • A sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal
  • A white or red patch in the mouth or on the lip or tongue
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Swelling in the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Voice changes
  • A lump or mass in the neck
  • Ear pain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends checking the following areas of the mouth for signs of cancer:

  1. Lymph nodes. Check the nodes in the neck and under the lower jaw.
  2. Cheeks and lips. Look for red or white patches.
  3. Gums. Notice any lumps or spots.
  4. Tongue. Pull the tongue forward and look for any swelling or abnormal color or texture. Also check the base of the tongue and underside.
  5. Palate and back of throat. Look for any abnormalities.
  6. Floor of the mouth. Check for lumps or sensitivity.

Conducting these exams not only saves lives, but it can also help protect you against malpractice. Patients will appreciate the extra care you take. Take the five minutes. Your patients will thank you.

Celebrate Earth Day with these sustainable dentist office tips

Dentistry is an energy- and resource-intensive field. In the United States, dental practices discard approximately 680 million chair barriers, light handle covers and patient bibs, as well as 1.7 million sterilization pouches each year.

But that doesn’t mean running a more sustainable dentist office is impossible! Here are some ways you can be more sustainable, so you can start your journey towards a more eco-friendly practice.

What is the reduce, reuse, recycle method?

Recycling is usually the first thing people think of when they think about sustainability, but it’s just one way you can reduce your waste. The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” highlights other steps you can employ as well to tackle the amount of waste your practice generates.

The first step is to identify areas you can reduce the number of items you use. Next, identify areas where you can reuse an item repeatedly to get the most uses out of it. Finally, when you’ve finished using an item, recycle it appropriately. 

This can be tricky, given safety concerns for your patients and yourself and your staff, but one thing you can do is opt for items that can be sanitized and reused over single-use items. One example would be using a laminated paper at your front desk for reminders or promotions, rather than handing out flyers to every patient.

In the front office and reception area

Office administration can be a paper heavy job and having physical copies of things like patient information may be essential when your power or internet goes out. But there are other areas where you can reduce your paper usage:

  • Go digital. Take your administrative tasks online with Provider Tools. This free an application from Delta Dental that lets your office do tons of administrative tasks online. You can sign up for direct deposit payments and explanations of benefits, verify patient eligibility, opt in to paperless communications and more!
  • Use an online patient portal. Patient portals that let patients submit all of their necessary information online reduce the amount of information you need to print. If your office requires having printed information, you can print only what’s necessary, ultimately reducing paper and ink.
  • Use energy efficient products. Energy-efficient products can include water-saving toilets, solar panels, LED light bulbs, and reflective glass windows. Green products include glass irrigation syringes, biodegradable cups and office furniture made with recycled or reclaimed materials. Instead of discarding them, look into recycling your office supplies and computer parts. Replace single-use products like batteries and heater/air conditioner filters with reusable ones.
  • Communicate with your patients digitally. Limit the number of things you send your patients through the mail and use emails, texts and phone calls to reach them instead. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate sending physical mail entirely — simply provide more options for your patients to choose from. Letting patients choose the best way to get in touch with them could also lead to more effective communication efforts for your practice.
  • Use recycled and recyclable materials. Sometimes you just need to print. When that happens, consider using recycled paper. Recycling paper results in less water usage and air pollution than creating new paper from scratch, and paper can be recycled multiple times. When you do print, avoid adding coatings or lamination, as they typically can’t be recycled.

In the operatory

Dentistry waste is often hazardous, difficult to manage and expensive. In recent years, the industry for dental tools has been paying attention to concerns about the environment, with new high-tech innovations often allowing for waste reduction.

If you can’t afford to invest in an expensive new tool that could reduce waste, it’s still possible to reduce waste in other ways.

  • Order in bulk. No matter what you’ll need to use some items only once, likely due to sanitary concerns. When ordering your single-use items, consider ordering in bulk. It may seem counterintuitive, but bulk orders minimize transportation pollution and reduce the amount of packaging overall. For example, if you order one box of latex gloves every month, you’ll receive 12 shipping boxes with cushioning, and a delivery driver must come to your business 12 times. With one bulk order, you’ll most likely get a year’s supply in just a few boxes and a single delivery.
  • Use digital x-rays. Converting to digital dental radiographs from traditional film can reduce waste and repetitive expenses. Even better, digital radiographs are easy to share, and they eliminate the use of silver and chemicals to develop film. The chemicals needed to develop film and proper disposal methods can be expensive as well as dangerous to the environment. If you need to use film radiographs, the American Dental Association recommends recycling the lead foil along with the fixer and developer solutions.

When going green, even small changes can help — and add up over time.

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